COP LAND, written & directed in 1997 by James Mangold, gave Sylvester Stallone a turn at the best ‘serious’ acting he’d done in nearly two decades—since Nighthawks and F.I.S.T. Pegged in simplistic crowd-pleasing genre actioners, at 41 his previous entries Daylight, Judge Dredd and Assassins were not only knocked by reviewers—unsurprising—but they under-performed financially. Wolfing down 40 pounds to flab up for a guy nearly down for the count, Stallone faced off to hold his own with heavy hitters in the major roles and a supporting cast laden with up and comers. Well-received by critics, the $15,000,000 effort did okay but not knockout business, 46th domestically with $44,907,000, logging another $18,800,000 elsewhere. *
The crime rate in ‘Garrison’, New Jersey barely registers. That’s because the peaceful little town is full of New York City cops, who’ve moved there with their families to escape the stress and peril of the violence-plagued urban crush they deal with on the job. The hidden crime rate in aptly christened Garrison belongs to a good number of the police, on the take in one way or another, or at least looking the other way. Genial ‘Freddy Heflin’ (Stallone) wanted to be a NYPD officer, but partial deafness ruled that out: he has the token job of town sheriff, a doormat position that works for the “real cops” whose lucrative bylines require a cover. Then an Internal Affairs investigator (Robert De Niro) prods the life-deflated Heflin to wake up and step up.
Stallone does an excellent job underplaying the forlorn, cast-off Freddie, and director Mangold not only has him face-off with De Niro, but Harvey Keitel (the coolly practical ringleader of the tainted lawmen) and Ray Liotta (Freddie’s basically decent but tarnished brother); there’s a definite intensity factor in the air.</p> <p>The women in the cast aren’t shrinking violets—Annabella Sciorra, Janeane Garafolo and Cathy Moriaty all lend considerable presence.
Added additional flavor to the lineup are a gallery of newcomers headed by the intimidating Robert Patrick. There’s Peter Berg, Michael Rapaport, Noah Emmerich, John Spencer and Paul Calderon. Later familiar from The Sopranos are Edie Falco, Arthur Nascarella, Frank Vincent and Tony Sirico. “Blondie” lead singer Deborah Harry is briefly glimpsed: her part was mostly cut.
Dramatic music from Howard Shore is a plus. 105 taut minutes that only falters some at the conclusion, when livelihood is sacrificed for license. The “as a result” afterword text is not only misleading–the script is fiction but the summation plays as if it actually happened—pure wish-fulfillment, since anyone who’s been paying attention for, uh, their whole lives, knows how corruption is “punished”. Dream on. Good movie, though.
* Stallone: ” I thought it would be a good acting exercise, and I worked with the best director I ever worked with–James Mangold–and I loved the film, but it actually worked in reverse. It was pretty good critically, but the fact that it didn’t do a lot of box office, again it fomented the opinion that I had my moment and was going the way of the dodo bird and the Tasmanian tiger.”