Directed by James Mangold. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra. (1997, R, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 15, 1997
Casting is everything, and the casting of Stallone -- playing way against type -- as the powerless hayseed sheriff in Cop Land is nothing short of inspired. His performance here singlehandedly eliminates any creeping notions that the revelatory actor/writer behind Rocky is a long gone, faded shadow. It's not, obviously, and Cop Land replaces unpleasant memories of cinematic and personal flubs like Oscar and Stop! or My Career Will Die! (which was, you may remember, retitled Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot! for domestic release) with newfound luster. All kidding aside, Stallone is dynamite, his readings clear and sharp and never unintentionally mumbled, his frame startlingly altered by the 40 extra pounds he gained for the role, and his acting dead-on. In this sophomore effort from Sundance wunderkind Mangold (Heavy), Stallone plays Freddy Heflin, sheriff of Garrison, New Jersey, a tiny and fictional hamlet just a nightstick's throw from New York City. Garrison is a village populated almost entirely by NYPD cops and their families, and Heflin, a small-town stooge who became a local hero when he rescued a girl from drowning decades ago, has been Garrison's patsy for the last 10 years. Due to partial hearing loss incurred during that hour of glory, Heflin was 4-F for NYPD duty, though he still worships the officers that he purports to police. When a young hotshot officer, Murray “Superboy” Babitch (Rapaport), goes off one night and accidentally kills two joyriding black teens, his uncle, Ray Donlan (Keitel), the unofficial boss of “Cop Land,” decides to fake his nephew's death and thereby avert an unavoidable public relations scandal. Hiding Babitch in Garrison, Donlan and his cronies dodge visits from Internal Affairs Detective Moe Tilden (De Niro) and struggle to keep the scam under wraps. The less revealed about Cop Land's story here, the better, though it should be obvious that Mangold's take on the age-old question of “Who's policing the police?” is a fresh one. The whole notion of a sheriff with long-quashed dreams absentmindedly policing a town full of men he believes to be his superiors is novel in the extreme, and Mangold grabs the idea, runs with it, and never looks back. Cop Land is packed with bravura performances, from comedienne Garofalo's fresh-off-the-reality-boat deputy to Sciorra's embittered, battered officer's wife, and the range displayed is at times breathtaking. Fans of the Marty-esque Heavy might note in advance that Cop Land is at times a violent, bloody film, as befits its subject matter (and with De Niro, Keitel, and Liotta on the bill, that should be pretty obvious to begin with), but the gore only parallels the spiraling levels of fear and betrayal inherent in the story. It's a powerful, tightlywound ball of confusion, greed, revenge, and redemption -- an emotional sucker punch that'll have you looking in your rear-view for days afterward.