Cop Land

1997, R, 105 min. Directed by James Mangold. Starring Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra.

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More James Mangold Films
Ford v Ferrari
Enduring male bonding cuts through racetrack noise and paddock politics

Steve Davis, Nov. 15, 2019

Hugh Jackman sports those famous mutton chops for the final time

Kimberley Jones, March 3, 2017

More by Marc Savlov
Truman & Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation
The titans of literature and their complex bond

June 18, 2021

The moldering earth has had enough with humanity in this South African ecohorror

June 18, 2021


Cop Land, James Mangold, Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle