Cop Land: Director’s Cut
December 11, 2003
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra, Noah Emmerich, Cathy Moriarity, Arthur J. Nascarella, ,
Cop Land (1997) is a homage to police corruption films like Sidney Lumet’s Serpico (1973) and Prince of the City (1981). In many respects, Cop Land is also a modern western, complete with a High Noon (1952) style showdown. A big deal was made about its stellar cast when Cop Land was first released but since then it has gone quietly unnoticed for some unknown reason. Miramax previously released this film on a movie-only DVD. This new version is a huge improvement but is it worth the upgrade?
Garrison, New Jersey is a town where New York City cops live—a safe haven from their dangerous workplace. When a young, up-and-coming cop (Rapaport) kills two young black men who he mistakenly thought had a gun, his fellow cops cover it up. Led by Ray Donlan (Keitel) and his right hand man, Jack Duffy (Patrick), they live in Garrison and effectively control the town. Freddy Heflin (Stallone) is the town Sheriff. He’s a beefy sad sack who’s looked down on by the other cops. For years he’s turned a blind eye to their corrupt practices, but when an Internal Affairs officer named Moe Tilden (De Niro) comes calling and asking for his help, Freddy is faced with a decision. Should he stay quiet and continue to go nowhere or help this man and become the cop he had always wanted to be?
Watching Cop Land, it’s amazing to think that this was only James Mangold’s second feature film (his debut was the underrated film, Heavy). With this movie and his follow-up, Girl, Interrupted (1999), he showed an incredible aptitude for directing powerhouse ensemble casts, steady, confident direction, and a knack for writing realistic dialogue.
Robert De Niro delivers a solid performance as a frustrated Internal Affairs officer who’s been after Keitel and his crew for years. Harvey Keitel is also excellent as the leader of the corrupt cops and De Niro’s nemesis. It is great to see these two share screen time together after all these years. Their scene together is charged with intensity as two men act civil to each other but one can sense a seething resentment underneath.
Ray Liotta has a memorable turn as Figgsy, one of the few cops living in Garrison who doesn’t look down on Freddy. Figgsy is a corrupt cop on the fence. He’s a smart guy and there is a glimmer of redemption that is sparked when he realizes that Ray is squeezing him out of their action. Since GoodFellas (1990) one got the feeling that Liotta had been coasting through roles but with such fantastic material to work with, he comes to life in this role. He has a great, edgy intensity that really comes out in a scene between him and Robert Patrick. The two men have an argument and Liotta pins Patrick’s character up against a wall and threatens him with a throwing dart. It’s a scary moment because of its unpredictability. You have no idea what Liotta’s character is going to do with that dart. Liotta obviously excels at these kinds of intense characters as evident with his brilliant turn in Narc (2002).
Yet, with all of these amazing actors, the film surprisingly belongs to Sylvester Stallone who let himself go for the role of Freddy. He plays a simple man with a lifetime of regrets and could have beens. The mystery of the suicidal cop forces Freddy to re-examine himself and why he became a cop in the first place. Stallone does a fantastic job (his best since Rocky). He does more than just physically transform himself into this character; he also conveys the inner turmoil in Freddy. He’s a deeply conflicted character: the last honest man in a town of corrupt cops. Freddy wants to do the right thing; he just forgot how somewhere down the road.
“Cop Land: The Making of an Urban Western” is an excellent retrospective featurette. Mangold says that, originally, he wanted to make a western and that this story was a contemporary take on High Noon. The director didn’t expect Stallone to be interested in the role but the actor wanted to something different, to go back to his starving actor roots. After him, came De Niro and then everyone else followed.
Next, there is a “Storyboard Comparison” that allows one to watch part of the film’s climatic shoot-out simultaneously with the storyboards for it.
There are two deleted scenes with optional commentary. One scene sheds light on the racial hatred that exists in Garrison and the other is a nice if inconsequential scene between Stallone and Janeane Garofalo.
Rounding out the extras is a solid audio commentary with director James Mangold, producer Cathy Konrad and actors Sylvester Stallone and Robert Patrick. Not surprisingly, Mangold and Stallone dominate this track. Stallone comes across as a very humble and gracious guy. Mangold keeps everyone talking, acting as an informal moderator and asking everyone questions. This is a really good track and definitely worth a listen if you’re a fan of this movie.
Cop Land features a killer cast and allows them to flex their acting chops with a top-notch screenplay. This DVD is a definite improvement over the previous bare bones edition and is worth the upgrade. Miramax has finally done this film justice with an excellent special edition.