Judge Clark Douglas is a lifelong resident of Nerd Land.
No one is above the law.
"I look at this town, and I don't like what I see."
Facts of the Case
Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone, Rocky) is the sheriff of Garrison, New Jersey. On the surface, it looks like an ordinary place, but there's something which sets Garrison apart from most small towns: it's almost entirely populated by cops. It's a place where cops who work in the big city can get away from the chaos they have to put up with at work. It's also a place where corrupt cops like Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant), Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta, Goodfellas) and Jack Rucker (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) can escape the watchful eye of internal affairs cops like Moe Tilton (Robert De Niro, Mean Streets). Freddy's willing to turn a blind eye to just about anything cops do in his town, particularly petty stuff like traffic violations and bar brawls. However, he's growing increasingly uneasy with Ray's increasingly public displays of corruption. When it begins to appear that Ray and some of the other cops may be planning to kill a young officer (Michael Rapaport, True Romance), Freddy determines that it's time to take a stand.
Watching James Mangold's Cop Land can be a moderately depressing experience. Not because it's badly crafted or because it provides a sobering portrait of police corruption, mind you. No, watching Cop Land is kind of depressing because it provides us with a brief look at what Sylvester Stallone's career could have been. The actor's most iconic roles (Rocky and Rambo, natch) were repeated until they inevitably became tiresome, and much of the rest of his resume is loaded with mindless, forgettable action flicks. However, Cop Land provided Stallone with a role that makes us giggle just a little less when we recall that Roger Ebert once compared Stallone to Marlon Brando.
Stallone's Freddy Heflin is timid, flabby, and sensitive. He's not a bad cop, just a pushover who allows the domineering Ray to tell him what to do. He doesn't like conflict and doesn't want any trouble; he just wants his town to remain a quiet little place where he can finish out his sad, peaceful, lonely career (Freddy is deaf in one ear, which has prevented him from becoming the sort of high-ranking officer he once dreamed of being). When one cop shoves a dart into another cop's nose in a very public fight, the best Freddy can muster is a weak, barely audible, "Hey, break it up, guys." They ignore him, and Freddy does nothing about it. "That's enough!" Ray barks, and suddenly the fight abruptly concludes.
For all I know, Stallone is an incredibly intelligent guy in real life, but the wheels in his head seem to be spinning rather slowly in most of his roles. Part of what makes Freddy such a moving figure is that he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer; he's pretty clumsy when it comes to gathering clues and it takes him a long time to figure out things which most half-decent cops would piece together right away. Still, he has noble intentions and a certain soulfulness which no one seems to notice; he sits alone in his house at night listening to the melancholy sounds of Bruce Springsteen's The River. When he eventually decides to take action, he doesn't become the traditional Stallone hero but rather a more aggressive version of the clumsy character we've gotten to know over the past ninety minutes (let's be honest, Ray's initial plan is terrible and he only makes it as far as he does through a combination of perseverance and dumb luck). Still, there's something reminiscent of Gary Cooper's role in High Noon (or Christian Bale's role in Mangold's remake of 3:10 to Yuma, for that matter) about the character: here is a peaceful man who is going to do the right thing even if it means getting gunned down in the street.
Sly is backed by a superb supporting cast, with the best turn coming from Harvey Keitel as the corrupt Ray. Keitel plays a very different sort of "Bad Lieutenant" in this film; a man who hides his ever-building worry behind a stern poker face. He treats Ray in the same way that a misguided father might treat his son, providing condescending bits of encouragement ("You do a great job dealing with all the traffic in town, Freddy.") and dismissing his concerns with "because I say so" platitudes. Ray Liotta is surprisingly subtle as the strung-out cop whose guilt may finally be getting the best of him, and Robert De Niro has some wonderfully played scenes as the internal affairs cop attempting to sway Freddy to join his righteous cause (1997 was a very good year for De Niro; he also did excellent work in Wag the Dog and Jackie Brown).
Cop Land (Blu-ray) proves to be a rather impressive catalogue release, delivering an exceptional 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. Black levels are the highlight in this case, as darker scenes prove exceptionally rich and inky. Colors during brighter scenes don't have a lot of pop, but the slightly drab palette suits the film. There's a faint, consistent measure of grain present which never becomes distracting. Flesh tones are warm and natural. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is also quite impressive, particularly a striking sequence late in the film which does a lot of ambitious, experimental things in the sound design department (I'd elaborate, but to do so would require me to spoil a plot detail). The track is immersive and aggressive; it's much-better sounding than you'd expect from a film made in 1997. Dialogue is occasionally inconsistent, but otherwise there are no problems. Supplements are ported over from the special edition DVD: a commentary with Mangold, Stallone, Patrick and producer Cathy Konrad, the "Copland: The Making of an Urban Western" featurette, some deleted scenes and some storyboard comparisons.
Note: This Blu-ray only contains the lengthier director's cut of the film. The changes made are small, but positive.
Cop Land is most noteworthy for containing a surprisingly strong performance from Stallone, but it's also an exceptional cop drama that is holding up quite well nearly fifteen years after its initial release. The Blu-ray looks and sounds strong enough to merit an upgrade.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.