Reviews

'Cop Land' Is Captivating Journey of Self-Realization and Corruption

Sylvester Stallone doesn't do dramas often. Cop Land proves that may be his biggest mistake.


Cop Land

Director: James Mangold
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Robert Patrick, Janeane Garofalo, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra, Noah Emmerich, Cathy Moriarty, John Spencer
Length: 116 minutes
Studio: Miramax Films, Woods Entertainment, Across the River Productions
Year: 1997
Distributor: Miramax Films
MPAA Rating: R for violence, strong language and brief nudity
UK Release Date: 2011-11-07
US Release Date: 2011-11-01

Perhaps best known as the movie featuring a paunchy instead of punchy Stallone, Cop Land is also a slowly captivating journey of self-realization and corruption. Helped along its sometimes overstuffed way by an incredible cast, the second feature from James Mangold is a testament to what young filmmakers can do given the chance to shoot their own scripts, both good and not so good.

Every so often in the just under two hour feature, there’s a bumpy scene. It goes a few seconds too long or is cut so short it makes you wonder why it wasn’t incorporated into another scene. Though this isn’t always the director’s fault (editors are the most undervalued members of a movie’s team), it’s hard to blame anyone else considering this is the director’s cut of Cop Land and Mangold wrote (overwrote?) the script.

That said, the movie’s classic cuts vastly overwhelm its minor messes. From the opening split scene bringing together the two towns to the aurally fascinating finalé, Mangold shows he had very specific ideas for visually capturing his script. He also proved he could execute them with the boldness of a much more seasoned operator. He understands what he’s making isn’t a slam-bang action yarn. It’s not The French Connection or The Departed. Cop Land is a slow burn the director describes as an “urban western” (the similarly titled bonus feature on the Blu-ray provides more clarification on the director’s ideas). He shoots it in a simple, lingering manner befitting the deliberate pacing.

And yes, at its head is the man who’s played multiple memorably muscular police officers going aggressively against type. Now, as Sheriff Freddy Heflin, Sly is a beefy, partially deaf, depressed drunk who can’t get accepted to the NYPD. He’s a decent shot with a pistol and may have a heart of gold, but the self-inflected hearing problem he suffered during a heroic moment in his youth is the reason he gives himself for failing ever since.

He’s also the town pushover. Practically everyone in Garrison, New Jersey has achieved what Freddy wishes he could obtain. They’re cops in the NYPD. He feels beneath them, and they don’t tell him he’s wrong. Even his only friend, Figgsy (Ray Liotta), seems to pity him more than support him. The movie’s morality is found in Freddy’s slow rise to respect. He needs to find it in himself, and when he does, he starts trying to earn it from others.

Stallone captures this transformation with a power and subtlety previously unseen by the actor. In the feature commentary recycled on the new Blu-ray edition of the film (all the extras were included in past releases), Sly says he thought the ideal animal to mimic his character after was a turtle. He moves slowly, both in his physical mannerisms and action taken. His protective shell is his uniform, but it’s not the uniform he wants to wear. It’s merely the only one he has. Yet once his curiosity is piqued, he’s sternly determined.

All of this comes across in the star’s impacting performance. His eyes are simply dead to the world for the first 20 minutes. Slowly, they start to burn before they catch fire in the film’s phenomenal conclusion. Wisely, though, he doesn’t totally turn over. He’s not a new man by the end. Instead, he’s an altered version of the disappointed denizen from before. Credit certainly goes to Mangold the writer, but so much of Freddy’s character comes from Sly’s complete commitment to laying low. His small shoulder shrugs, lowered gaze, and dazed demeanor are all unique to this role. His presence, though no longer physical, is far from lessoned. He stands toe to toe with Robert De Niro in a few key scenes, and it will be an eternal debate over who held the frame better.

Of course, Mangold knows he needs juicier matters than his lead’s internal struggle to make a movie that’s more than just another actors’ piece. That’s where the rest of the cast comes in to help out. From the aforementioned De Niro to the sometimes spotty Harvey Keitel to the ever-committed Ray Liotta, the cast seems to be competing for the Best Supporting Actor prize in every scene. That’s not to say they’re hamming it up – far from it. The subtly powerful film brings out the best of each actor’s quiet side. Even when Liotta brings the heat in a few fiery scenes, he does so without completely blowing his lid.

The disappointing rehash of special features combined with the simplistic visual style make the latest edition of Cop Land almost unnecessary. If you own the DVD, you’re not missing out on anything other than a more lasting platform for the movie. That being said, any fan of the actors, especially Sly, should absolutely check out this undervalued drama. It, like its lead actor, won’t disappoint.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.