'Cop Land': THR's 1997 Review

Cop Land - H - 1997
A solidly entertaining drama that stays true to the independent spirit of its filmmakers.

On Aug. 15, 1997, Miramax unveiled James Mangold's star-studded thriller Cop Land in theaters, where it would go on to gross $63 million. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

A solidly entertaining drama that stays true to the independent spirit of its filmmakers, including the casting of heavyweights Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in less-than-glamorous roles, Miramax's Cop Land has a good shot at leggy box office success based on upbeat word-of-mouth and critical support.

Writer-director James Mangold (Heavy) wrangles an impressive cast working for scale — including Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Janeane Garofalo, Peter Berg, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport and Annabella Sciorra — and spins a compelling tale of cancerous corruption among a secretive group of New York's finest who have settled in the fictional New Jersey burg of Garrison.

Having gained some 40 pounds for the role, Stallone indeed looks chunky and plays the sleepy, docile Sheriff Freddy Heflin with sluggishness to spare in a largely commendable performance as a half-deaf small-town dreamer. With his sad, deputy-dog visage and muted delivery, Stallone is not given much in the way of memorable dialogue, but he makes the character work, and the climactic action sequence is one of his best in a long career of blowing away bad guys.

The kind of palooka who has yet to replace his LP of The River with a CD and carries a torch for the local Jersey girl (Sciorra) he saved from drowning — the reason for his loss of hearing in one ear — Freddy once longed to be a big-city cop but had to settle for policing them. As such, he has a mickey-mouse job in the safest place in America, as long as he keeps his mouth shut and doesn't pay too close attention.

In the fashion of a John Sayles film, Mangold peels back the veils of romance and myth and reveals the emotional extremes and cynical personal agendas of the group associated with town kingpin Ray (Keitel), the respected officer who first led the move of cops out of the city to Garrison and used his mob ties to make it happen. In the process, tough-guy Ray has had to cover up mistakes and eliminate problems.

A hard-charging internal affairs investigator (De Niro) has long suspected Ray of vigilante activities and worse, but his jurisdiction stops at the George Washington Bridge — the site of a highway shooting involving a young NYPD hothead (Rapaport), who fakes his death rather than face criminal charges. When all signs point to Garrison as the safe haven for Rapaport's character, De Niro tries but initially fails to involve Freddy.

Loyal to Ray, but starting to listen to scheming loner cop Figgis (Liotta), Freddy gradually realizes that he doesn't like how the town has turned out. The suspicious death of Joey (Berg), the unfaithful husband of Sciorra's unhappy character, ups the stakes, but the investigation by De Niro has been abruptly terminated and Freddy's sharp new deputy (Garofalo) high-tails it out of town.

Threatened by Ray's volatile comrade (Patrick) but befriended by the former's wife (Cathy Moriarty), Freddy decides to take action and bring in Rapaport's character, which leads to a high-noon showdown with Ray and his goons. Throughout, Mangold and director of photography Eric Edwards keep the visual style restrained but effective.

With solid production design by Lester Cohen and costumes by Ellen Lutter, the editing by Craig McKay is also on the nose. Howard Shore's fine score is assisted by songs from Bruce Springsteen, Robert Cray and Boz Scaggs. — David Hunter, originally published on Aug. 11, 1997