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Stallone Is On the Job

He may be out of shape but he's got his chops in Cop Land

(This review originally appeared in the August 14-20, 1997 Long Island Voice.)

Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels

A movie starring Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro sounds like a Saturday Night Live sketch, but Miramax wouldn’t fund a film this star studded as a joke — and Cop Land is anything but.

Stallone is Freddy Heflin, the sheriff in a small, northern New Jersey town where a bunch of New York City cops — supposedly flush with overtime   cash and exemptions from the NYPD's residency rule due to the overtime with the MTA — buy up property just across the George Washington Bridge. Nearly all the residents of the quiet little town of Garrison are cops and their families. But the snake in the garden is where the money came from and what they will do to preserve it.

Someone's in charge in Garrison, but it's not Freddy, who spends his time emptying the parking meters of charge so he can play pinball. Freddy always wanted to be a city cop, but a teen-age injury while rescuing Liz (Annabella Sciorra) from drowning left him deaf in one ear and ineligible for the NYPD. Freddy's the guy on the outside looking in. He knows the other cops consider him a joke, and he goes along because they're his idols. He didn't even get the girl, because she decided to marry hot-tempered, unfaithful copy Joey Randone (Peter Berg).

Cop Land reminds us 20 years after Rocky that Stallone can act. He holds his own against the heavy hitting acting talent that includes Harvey Keitel, Cathy Moriarty, Ray Liotta, Berg, Scorra, Robert Patrick and Janeane Garofalo. Stallone skips his usual action-hero affectation to play the good-intentioned sheriff. Freddy starts out tired, slow and insecure, trying to keep his head in the sand. Then he tries to resolve things in a very low-key fashion. even when he finally realizes that he might have to act like a cop for the first time in his career, he doesn't suddenly turn into Rambo. He's very human and scared, if determined. Plus the movie carefully laid the groundwork to make his actions credible.

De Niro, whose presence is being used as a heavy selling point, plays Internal Affairs investigator Moe Tilden, but he's really just a supporting actor with the least screen time of everybody. He has three scenes with Stallone, two of which we get to see in the commercials.

In the theater, Cop Land belongs to Keitel. His Ray Donlan, the officer who cut the deals to give everyone a little piece of heaven and the guy who gets things done and really runs Garrison. Ray will do anything to preserve status quo. Keitel doesn’t disappoint. Neither does the rest of the cast. You’ll spend the movie guessing how far each character will go or where they’ll draw the line. I particularly like Cathy Moriarty as Ray’s wife. If Hollywood was smart, it would keep her very busy.

Writer/director James Mangold makes his big-screen debut with Cop Land, and he has obviously studied at the Martin Scorsese school of filmmaking without being a copy cat. While Cop Land plays like the flip side to Goodfellas, which also starred Ray Liotta and De Niro, Mangold's Cop Land goes beyond simply good-versus-bad-cop posturing to show how the simplest of actions can spin into a life-and-death situation. One particularly harrowing scene early on with Ray’s nephew Murray (Michael Rapaport) shows the damned0fi-you-do/dead-if-you-don't choices NYPD officers have to make after he's side-swiped by a pair of joy riders. The guy nicknamed "Supercop" by the press for rescuing three children now has OT fear being crucified by the media. Situations like this and fear for their families' safety makes their deal with the devil a bit more understandable, if still blatantly illegal. Even the police who police, the Internal Affairs team, is ripe for suspicion as to why they're so hot for this case.

Cop Land is not the typical Stallone shot-'em-up. Instead, it's a poignant reminder of Stallone's acting chops that raises questions of what his career would have been like had he actually used his training rather than his muscles.

(A Miramax release. Directed by James Mangold.)

 

Review 1997 Long Island Voice. Photographs 1997 Miramax.

 

 

 

 

Review 1999 Beth Hannan Rimmels. Accompanying photographs  .