James' Mangold's Cop Land, his 1997 sophomore effort is a film of grand ideas on a small scale. Featuring a cast of some of the best character actors of their generation, in atypical roles (Stallone especially), it weaves a story of police corruption in a small New Jersey suburb.
Having only a passing interest and respect for Mangold perhaps helped in my appreciation of this picture, in that one has no idea what to expect if going in cold. From it's admittedly silly title, one might think they were getting into a typical 'cops & robbers' genre picture. What the audience actually gets is a look into the lives and machinations of a small town almost entirely inhabited by police officers and their families. Every town has a "Cop Bar," a place where the local officers will gather after a day's work, Cop Land on the other hand takes place in the fictional town of Garrison, NJ, where crooked NYC police officers have basically bought an entire town and turned into their own personal playpen.
Sylvester Stallone stars as Freddy Heflin, the puppet sheriff of the town, which is actually run by NYC police lieutenant Donlan, played masterfully by Harvey Keitel. Stallone plays a long broken man, struggling to get by with nothing but dreams and memories to keep him going. This is one of Stallone's strongest performances in a long and varied career. He's no Rocky Balboa here, but Heflin is just as sympathetic. Small character building moments really build the character into something more than had it been in the hands of a weaker actor. This is really something special.
As for the rest of the cast? Hoooh boy, they're something else. Keitel pulls off "slimy" like few others and he really brings his A game here. Ray Liotta on the other hand, goes against type by actually playing a "good guy" this time around, which is a pleasure to behold. Robert DeNiro also deserves credit for playing a dialed down Internal Affairs agent who's been watching over the town for years. Oh and Robert Patrick of Terminator 2 and The Sopranos fame, gets almost as much screen time as his more accomplished counterparts, which is both a credit to Mangold's belief in him and to his talent as an actor. Everyone here is aces.
This is a Suburban Western with some nasty grit and a much darker tone than most star-studded 90's genre movies. Want to witness a riveting story? How about some electrifying performances? Then I implore you to check out Cop Land. There won't be any disappointment.