Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Michael Rapaport
Directed by: James Mangold
Film length: 1hr 44mins
Theatrical Release: 1997
Blu-ray release: 2009
I picked up Cop Land on Blu-ray years ago and was surprised to see it was still wrapped in cellophane when my wife, Sarah, chose it for Sunday movie night. So, I can’t say for sure, but the last time I watched it might have been in the theater in 1997.
Like most movies I haven’t watched in a really long time, I could not tell you much about it. I remember really liking it but I couldn’t tell you why. Well, the advantage of having memory like a slice of Swiss cheese is, I can experience it again for the first time!
The Film (5/5)
“That cupcake makes a mess and we got a case again.”
Cop Land takes place in the fictional town of Garrison, New Jersey, whose residents are mostly members of the New York City Police Department. These cops live a little higher on the hog than they should be able to on a single income salary, if you know what I mean. Garrison is led by Lt. Ray Donlan (Keitel) who doesn’t hold any official position, but he runs the show as one of the town’s founders.
After an incident on the George Washington Bridge (which leads into Garrison from New York) leaves two black teens shot dead in their car by the young officer Murray “Super Boy” Babitch (Rapaport), and Officer Jack Rucker (Patrick) is caught planting a gun at the scene, Donlan devises a quick cover up on the spot and convinces Babitch to fake his own death.
The incident makes big news as New York politicians are given heat by black community leaders to seek justice, while the internal affairs division, led by Moe Tilden (DeNiro), becomes involved. Donlan realizes that the case will never go cold as long as no body is found, and he plots to kill Babitch himself. Babitch is tipped off and shows up at the door of Garrison’s local Sheriff, Freddie Heflin (Stallone), for help.
Heflin, who has spent his entire career (and life) accustomed to letting the New York cops walk all over him professionally and personally, now must decide to either do the right thing or look away again.
I was enthralled with Cop Land from beginning to end. After our Sunday viewing, I read some reviews that knocked the film for having too many characters and too many side stories happening. Wow. I didn’t feel that way at all. I enjoyed how the side stories gave depth to the characters and added suspense.
Figgsy (Liotta), for instance, has a side story about his greasy scheme to collect some insurance money so he can leave Garrison. Figgsy currently has no love for Donlan, but he also has a long history of friendship with the man. When Figgsy decides to help out Heflin we don’t know which one of his multiple motives is the cause of his actions. Is it to keep internal affairs off of his trail? Is it because Heflin uncovered his plan to defraud an insurance company? Is it because he really dislikes Donlan? Since we never know, we don’t know if we can fully trust him. We don’t know what will happen next! Hence, suspense.
Donlan is a solid antagonist for the film too. He isn’t a villain with a master plan, but he continuously adapts to the hand he is given. As long as there is little chance of him getting caught, he will take advantage of any opportunity to get rid of anyone who might be a threat. He might use his political influence or straight up get his hands dirty. You see him do both in this film, and you get to know how dangerous he can be. You never know what he will do or what will happen next! Suspense!
Cop Land is loaded with good actors, and the complexity of the situation and characters who are in it drive the film. Clocking in at 1hr 45mins, cutting something like the Figgsy side story might have trimmed it up a bit, but I’m glad it wasn’t done at the cost of suspense. Besides, the film is already paced well as it is.
What stood out to me/Memorable moments
Cop Land was filmed in New Jersey and a lot of local actors that later became staples on The Sopranos are here. Edie Falco, Frank Vincent and Paul Herman all play small roles; and Arthur J. Nascarella and Annabella Sciorra have considerably larger parts. Paulie Walnuts makes an appearance too, but only in some photos… not sure if that counts. And yes, Robert Patrick was in The Sopranos as well, but I still see him as the T-2000 more than anything else. There is a “Spot The Sopranos Star” drinking game here somewhere.
The scenes with DeNiro and Stallone together are some of the best
There is this desire in Hollywood to get DeNiro and Al Pacino on-screen at the same time together in a decent film. They were both in The Godfather 2, but never together. Their scene together in Heat was a big let down, and holy hell did Righteous Kill ever suck. I see they’re trying again with an upcoming Netflix film, but forget those two! Let’s get DeNiro back on-screen with Stallone!
If, like they say, acting is reacting, then Stallone kills every scene he is in with DeNiro. In their first long scene together, DeNiro is calling him out for not doing his job. Stallone is fidgeting around, giving minimal answers, and looking away like a kid sent to the principal’s office. He plays it well. Their second moment together is kind of spoilery, so I’ll just say, “see it for yourself!”
The shoot out
A young Heflin was left deaf in one ear after saving someone from drowning. This incident and outcome are known in the community and at one point in the film, someone fires a gun close to his good ear to put him out of commission. What follows is several intense minutes of pure action bliss. The audio is from Heflin’s perspective, with muffled gun shots and dialogue. It is like Heflin is hearing things underwater with a steady blast of Tinnitus.
I know critics at the time really knocked this scene for being too “cartoony”. It’s understandable considering the rest of the film is firmly grounded in reality, but damn: this IS a movie after all. A more realistic sequence may have been more appropriate but I’m sure it would have been boring, too. I, for one, am glad the filmmakers decided to make it entertaining instead.
Cop Land was filmed in the late 90’s, so there is no surprise that it isn’t terribly grainy, but this print hasn’t held up very well. Dirt and film scratches (One hung out on Liotta’s face for an entire scene) are prevalent. I’m already on the hunt for the Collector’s Edition which I understand has been cleaned up a bit.
Another competent DTS-HD audio track. Gun shots have a nice pop to them, and dialogue is clear even while some actors are speaking low. The shoot-out scene that I mention previously is a delight in 5.1 as the “Tinnitus effect” swirls around the speakers.
Special Features (0.0/5)
There are none. Zero. Zip. Zilch. There is not even an option to select chapters. Got to find that Collector’s Edition.
When I eventually get off of this Stallone kick I’m on right now, I’ll be shocked if Cop Land is no longer my favorite “Sly flick”. I love First Blood, and consider both it and Cop Land to be perfect movies but for different reasons. Cop Land gets to sit a little higher since crime drama is right in my wheelhouse. Crooked cops, mafia connections, conflicted characters, racial tension, political cover ups… The only thing missing is a ’40s or ’70s setting instead of the ’90s. I have no problem with keeping Cop Land on the same shelf as L.A. Confidential, The Godfather, and Goodfellas. I highly recommend this film.
Thanks for reading.