Stallone gives powerhouse performance in Cop Land
I'm not exactly sure that I can review this fairly. I am pretty biased towards Stallone films, but then I figured that critics are supposed to be biased. I admit it... I love Stallone movies. Even if they are brainless action flicks (with the exception of The Specialist which was just plain awful) I usually have a good time watching them. However, upon hearing Stallone's reduction of salary in order to play a kind-hearted sheriff in Cop Land, I was hoping and praying that the role would turn out to be a good one for Stallone. After films like Assassins, Judge Dredd, Daylight, and The Specialist, one can get tired of his usual antics on screen. Watching Rocky, I knew Stallone had the talent to become a big star, but he was launched into a career of action films which bombed here in the USA, but did quite well overseas.
But that isn't saying some of his action films weren't good. Demolition Man was highly entertaining and pretty good for what it was. Cliffhanger was just plain terrific with good performances from the entire cast and some incredible action sequences. But Stallone was always known as Sly Stallone, not as serious actor Sylvester Stallone. Until now. It has taken over 20 years for him to get another role just as good as his Rocky persona. Was it worth the wait? Some of us loyal and faithful ones pushed through the cliched action films in hope for a better film. Well, it is here. Cop Land is not only one of Stallone's best films, but one of the best films of the year. Considering that it is already August, I can truthfully say that. My only hope is that this film is remembered when those Oscar nominations are made.
Cop Land begins with a monologue from a narrator telling us about the hero of the movie. Freddy Heflin (Stallone) is the sheriff of Garrison, New Jersey, which is known by the locals as Cop Land. Freddy dreams about being one of the NYPD cops that he sees everyday in his jurisdiction. Unfortunately, Freddy went deaf in one ear during a heroic rescue when he was younger, and this keeps him from getting any kind of job on the NYPD. So he settles for being the sheriff of this small town. Cop Land was created when some of the police officers of New York didn't want to have to live in the city and put their families at risk. But the only problem was that no cop could live on the other side of the river without being a transit cop, at least part time. So a group of New York's finest, led by Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), become part-time transit policemen and live in Cop Land.
As Freddy begins to suspect, New York's finest may not be so fine at all. He witnesses things that make them look less and less heroic, and more and more corrupt. But by nature, Freddy isn't one to speak out or stand on his own. He remains quiet, and with his overweight but kind physique, he never really is taken seriously. His only real friends are the girl he saved from drowning and the other officers working with him. Naturally, he is in love with Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra), who remains friends with him because she owes him her life. But she is married to Joey Randone (Peter Berg), a sleazy cop who treats her with as little respect as possible. Soon, however, an incident involving a drunk cop (Michael Rapaport) who accidentally shoots two African Americans because he thinks they had a gun, sparks an investigation of the Cop Land cops. Murray "Superboy" Babitch, the drunk policeman, doesn't want to be caught in a slew of investigations, so he jumps off the bridge connecting New York to New Jersey. Or does he?
Freddy is the only witness to the truth and he knows exactly what is happening. The investigation of the suicide brings in internal affairs Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro), who believes that because Freddy lives around all the cops, he probably sees and hears more than anyone else. Unfortunately, the Cop Land cops have a lot of power behind them, and the internal affairs investigation is quickly cancelled. It is up to Freddy to deal with what he should and shouldn't do. But he does have help from Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta), a corrupt cop who wants revenge after his partner is killed. Together, these two uncover the conspiracy behind the suicide of Superboy, and the corruption of the Cop Land cops.
What makes Cop Land so much better than most other films of this same genre is the way it is done. While the film does have action sequences, this is more or less a drama with colorful characters to drive it forward. The pace is kept slow, and this allows the emotional effect to come out of the woodwork, which makes the film more entertaining than almost any other film out this year (the exception may be Contact). Freddy is such a great character because he is much different from every character Stallone has ever played. But that isn't the only reason. Freddy, the sheriff with an unrealized dream, is so much like the average person that most people could probably relate to him. He doesn't speak his opinion, he doesn't pull over speeders unless they are going about 50 over the speed limit, and his weight is a result of his dream shattering hearing loss. His emotions are stored up inside him, and they are released in a final battle between good and evil at the end of the film which is very disturbing and shocking.
But let's face it: the entire cast is terrific, with Stallone and Liotta giving the two best performances of the film. Liotta almost steals the film from under Stallone, but considering that he isn't a very likeable character, he doesn't quite succeed. Liotta is a very underrated actor, and hopefully he will get some more roles like this one in the future. Keitel is amazing as the leader of Cop Land's cops. It was almost a role destined for him. De Niro is terrific as usual, and I don't really need to say more. Sciorra gives a nice, low-key performance which compares to Stallone's. Janeane Garofalo gives a very god performance, although she isn't in the film all that much. When she is, she handles herself quite well. Rapaport is good with some nice moments of his own. But, as the hype has been suggesting, this film is Stallone's, and it is rightfully his. Perhaps I am just overexaggerating his performance because it is so different from his action roles. But I don't think so. Hopefully, Oscar won't forget this film.
Cop Land is rated R for language, violence and some gore, brief nudity, as well as some drug use. Director/writer James Mangold (Heavy) has created a wonderfully fresh and emotionally involving film about corrupt cops. Nothing is really surprising, except for the shocking showdown at the end. But none of that matters, as this is a vehicle for strong performances and a great story. It's nice to see a film that doesn't rely on special effects to move the story along. I just hope that Cop Land doesn't get lost in the shuffle of big-budget films with no story.
**** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie