Thursday, March 24, 2011

Cop Land

A truly stunning performance by Sylvester Stallone as likable Sheriff Freddy Heflin.

This is one of those RARE detours away from the sci-fi-centric themes of Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic. So, I have a pile of seemingly endless Blu-Ray titles that I have yet to watch. The Killer was last year. Cop Land was the latest. At this rate, I should finish them by the time I'm 95. Yes, I plan to be here awhile.

I popped in a bare bones Canadian Blu-Ray of Writer/ Director James Mangold's Cop Land. The film, while not perfect, definitely met my expectations. I was truly hoping for something resembling the film I had experienced. It really didn't disappoint.
*
Mangold did some fine work on 3:10 To Yuma [2007] with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. His flair for writing dialogue and real character exchanges combined with gritty film moments genuinely elevates his material. He's definitely a unique talent who is maturing. Heavy [1995] was a classic little film. His Identity [2003] was intriguing too. Walk The Line [2005] is his most notable achievement within the industry and with viewers starring Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix. This man, Mangold, can do one more thing in a big way and that's draw talent.
*
It's amazing how many fine actors he assembled for Identity, but he managed even bigger for Cop Land years earlier, both Mangold films featuring strong contributions from Ray Liotta [Good Fellas, Narc].

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Still, big star names are never enough to deliver a film. We've certainly seen our fair share of lemons to bear that out. Cop Land on its face looks like it could easily fall into that category. A big old kettle of talent that simply falls flat.
*
Fortunately, the reverse is true in the hands of James Mangold, Cop Land delivers a strong, little story, if moving slightly beyond the plausible.

That band aid speaks to the Heflin character and Mangold keeps it through a good portion of the film for continuity and to reflect his damaged lead in Stallone.
Shouldering the mighty small tale, to my complete and utter amazement was Mr. Sylvester Stallone. I knew Stallone was leading up the ensemble picture, but he really shows up here. Stallone delivers of one of his finest performances and sincerely plays against type as slightly unmotivated, mildly frumpy, milquetoast Sheriff Freddy Heflin, a man who has lost his way. He is humble, unassuming and kind to those in the small New Jersey suburb of Garrison, New Jersey. He is at once in awe of the brother in law enforcement around him and yet tainted by their influence. He wears the badge, but fails to receive the respect it deserves by the countless officers who live and reside in the burb away from the city.

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The supporting cast includes the always reliable Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Annabella Sciorra [whom I've loved forever], Robert Patrick, Peter Berg and crazy Janeane Garofalo acting perfectly sane for the duration of the film. All play their parts in support of the film effectively. Actors like De Niro and Keitel deliver the good cop/bad cop roles beautifully as does Liotta and the film's ensemble sells the story without phoning in their small parts. Ultimately, it is Sylvester Stallone that carries the weight of the film and acts as the glue to the story.
While the film is certainly Hollywood in conclusion the efforts by Mangold to keep the action on a small scale and allow it to play out and execute in a typically un-Hollywood fashion, quietly makes the material believable. In fact, how Mangold utilizes the technique of sound in the final minutes of the film is pure genius and the kind of thing film enthusiasts generally appreciate. I know I did.

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Cop Land was fairly well received. It is a film built like a Hummer with all of its "talent to burn" wrote Janet Maslin of The New York Times. Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly was disappointed calling the story "pulpy" and Stallone's performance in "neutral." These factors really worked for me, particularly the latter where Stallone presents Heflin as a man essentially coasting through life. As the late Gene Siskel wrote, the screenplay must be "savored," and those remarks hold particularly true of Stallone's work here. When his character awakens its never over-the-top. Stallone doesn't take the character and go all Rambo, but rather more original Rocky. He's a kind of down-on-his-luck, regular guy you root for. Rita Kempley of The Washington Post called the story "snarled" with a "poky pace." These criticisms are tepid. Politics is never clean and the pace is befitting of the genuine character portrayed by Stallone. Stallone makes the character feel real and delivers "spiritually beaten," noted by Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, to perfection without being pathetic.
*
These performances really elevate the material and the actors play their complexities with ease, but there's no phoning it in on Cop Land.

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Cop Land is sorely underrated and deserves a proper Blu-Ray release in the USA, but until then, seek it out and enjoy a film about a man looking to find himself. In fact, the whole film is about people who have lost their way. Cop Land is a morality play on people who have become the very thing they swore to protect the public against. It is a place where standards, right and wrong, and what it means to wear a badge are meaningless. It's a place where good and evil are flipsides of the same coin, where law enforcement has supplanted the mob. While the film is hopeful and sometimes Hollywood, Mangold still crooks the script and direction in such a way that Cop Land never falls into two-dimensional predictability. There's enough emotional and psychological subtext to deliver the film from the banal. The use of Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen and his song Stolen Car from The River [1981] perfectly underscores a real sense of place and the fiber of this central, working man hero.
*
Mangold really threads his tale with a sense of grounded reality amidst this tale of corruption. The message is clear amidst the wreckage of human souls. Redemption is possible. Society may have pockets of rot, but it's still possible for just one man to make the difference and set the wheels of justice moving back in the right direction. It delivers this message with some credibility within some elements of the incredible. Mangold's cast of characters makes it worth the investigation.
*
It's a fine, unexpectedly small film with big names. Sylvester Stallone may be limited in his range, but he breathes real life into Sheriff Freddy Heflin. Viewing the film again, it's remarkable how subtle, but how far Freddy Heflin comes from the opening frames of the film.
*
Incensed, Harvey Keitel's character froths at Heflin, "Who the fuck do you think you are?" That's something Freddy Heflin must determine and that's the journey of this man, a man with something stirring within. Cop Land was a terrific discovery. Underneath all the filth there's something to feel good about here.
*
Cop Land: B+
Writer: James Mangold
Director: James Mangold

6 comments:

le0pard13 said...

You've written an outstanding review of this still underrated gem of a cop movie, my friend. And you're right to note director Mangold's excellent collection of films -- though, truth be told, I'm less enamored with his 3:10 to Yuma remake as I still prefer the 1957 Delmer Daves classic.

As you stated, this one has so many great things going for it, especially Stallone's performance. I tend to look at it as his anti-Rambo, but you right that this harkens back in semblance to Rocky. He is indeed "... a kind of down-on-his-luck, regular guy you root for." And yes, it does deserve a full on BD studio release here.

You've inspired me to tee this one up once more, SFF. It's now in my Netflix queue. Thanks for this.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks Leopard13.

I did really enjoy 3:10 To Yuma for the character interplay that Mangold seems to be firm of hand in directing.

I must admit that I have not seen the original, but have heard many great things about both.

As as always great to hear from you and Cop Land really is a fine film. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

J.D. said...

Another fantastic review! I always felt that COP LAND was the best Sidney Lumet cop film not directed by Lumet. It certainly owes a big debt to films like PRINCE OF THE CITY and Q&A - tales about police corruption but Mangold gives his film a bit of a stylistic zip at the end with the HIGH NOON-type showdown. And what a great cast?! Stallone, De Niro, Keitel, Liotta, etc. Amazing. It's just great to see these guys mix it up and spout all this intense dialogue. It's a shame that the film wasn't more of a hit commercially as I think it scared Stallone off from doing more dramatic fare, which he is obviously capable of doing. Oh well...

Really enjoyed your review of COP LAND. It's one I've been thinking of reviewing myself.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thank you J.D. as always. I love hearing your reflections on film like L13.

Great point about that High Noon moment. Perfect. It's rich! Great style. Great quality across the board. An underappreciated film classic.

I'd love tosee a Radiator Heaven analysis of Cop Land.

By the way, this Canadaian disc is labelled Detectives. : )

Thanks as always, SFF

SpookierThanU said...

this is one of the best reviews of Cop Land I've read. I'm surprised so many critics did not care for the film much, but I think they fell victim to hype and unrealistic expectations.

by the way, this canadian version of the Blu-ray is currently the only way to get the theatrical cut of the film in anamorphic widescreen. But i've heard the picture quality is lousy - any thoughts? I can't watch the "director's cut" as I think it ruins the movie significantly.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Hello and thanks so much for the kind words.

I have to tell you, this is a fine picture. There are so many interesting techniques used in the final moments of the film too to really separate it from the standard crime films.

I think Stallone is top shelf as are all of the supporting players. These are fine performances and, trust me, I don't follow Stallone.

I don't believe I viewed the Director's Cut but I'll have to go back and look.

I did purchase the Canadian version.

Though, Copland was released by Miramax Lionsgate in November 2011 in the USA. So it is now available stateside. Good news for those who haven't had a chance to see it. It's very inexpensive and word has it -it improves upon the picture quality of the Canadian release, which was actually GOOD in quality, not bad.

Take care and thank you.
sff