Written and Directed by James Mangold
The quiet life of a small-town sheriff is turned upside down when he is forced to face the corrupt cops he has been turning a blind eye to for far too long.
This is such a good movie that has aged fantastically. Stallone wanted to get into more serious work, and this was his attempt to do so. He is a good actor who unfortunately focuses too much on his muscles rather than his talent. He turns in a great performance here as small New Jersey town sheriff Freddy Heflin. He’s a damaged character who has been disappointed by life and just wants even a weak taste of his dream so he allows New York City cops that use a loophole of the system to live in his town to be the ones actually in charge.
Freddy had wanted to become a big city police officer but an injury from when he saved a young woman from drowning after an auto accident left him unable to serve so his consolation prize was this town and these corrupt cops.
De Niro as Tilden does an amazing job here, but he is one of the great actors, so I think that is expected. He is a hard-edged internal affairs cop that’s frustrated by not being able to make a case against any of these officers that he knows to be dirty-especially Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel).
This is one of those down and dirty dramas that assembles an all-star cast. Too often they are pretentious exercises looking to get awards but ultimately are not worth a watch, but this is the exception to that rule. Every one of them does an amazing job. Even Debbie Harry who has a small part as Delores the bartender at the 4 Aces kills it. They all do such an amazing job.
This is a well-acted drama that relies on the performances of its leads. It is a character driven; beautifully written story that has in my opinion withstood the test of time. It is one of those movies that can be revisited later and you’ll feel it is as good if not better than the first time you’ve seen it.
I cannot praise Stallone’s performance enough here. He is not the in-charge ladies’ man or the buff action hero. He stepped out of his usual wheelhouse for this role. He is an out of shape middle-aged guy who has been hammered down by life who longs for a woman who does not want him and dreams for something that he cannot have.
Ray Liotta plays Gary Figgis. He is as corrupt as any of the other cops living in Cop Land but is also the closest thing that Freddy has to a friend. He is a mixed bag. On the one hand he IS as corrupt as the others, but he is also weighed down by guilt over the things he has done. He is looking for an escape and finds it mostly in drugs.
The driving force of Cop Land is that the corrupt officers are trying to maintain their little kingdom in the small New Jersey town. They help out the mob and they get to live in relative luxury in nice homes outside of the city. But one of their own who is known as Murray “Superboy” Babitch (Michael Rapaport) mistakes a wheel lock for a gun and shoots two unarmed black men. In the following confusion evidence that clearly contradicts the facts is planted and Superboy in his panic flees.
The questions about what really happened during the incident and Superboy disappearing cause everything to unravel. Their own paranoia leads to their own self-destruction and in turn forces Freddy to face some hard truths about his life and his situation.
Freddy comes to realize there are some things he cannot have no matter how much he wants it such as a job in the NYPD or Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra) the woman whose life he saved and in doing so injured himself thus preventing him from achieving his dream. I dare say my heart broke for the character.
My main gripe with this is that the ending is just a shoot-em-up. In an attempt to rescue Superboy after he was kidnapped by the conspirators, Freddy with the eventual help of Gary kills the film’s central bad guys. In an otherwise well-written film this bit of lazy writing sticks out. It totally avoids a meaningful disposition for the central villains that ends their story in a meaningful way. Sub-villains in a film ending voice over get their comeuppance though but not those that spent real time on the screen.
Cop Land is a tense and well-acted drama. It builds the tension all the way to the resolution. Despite my issues with the end it is a wonderful film. If you have not caught this movie you need to.