Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra
Director: James Mangold
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Miramax
Features: See Review
Length: 116 Minutes
Release Date: June 1, 2004

“I look at this town…and I don’t like what I see.”

Film ***1/2

The issue of police corruption has been tackled hard in a number of strong films, most notably Narc, Dark Blue, and especially Training Day. However, I think credit for re-inventing the plot theme of corruptive authority, which has been a theme in many a film, should go way of writer/director James Mangold’s gripping and provocative film, Cop Land. In addition to its much riveting storyline, the film is enlivened by feel of a contemporary western, along with fully realized characters, brought to life by an incredible ensemble cast, which make this a most memorable enterprise.

The film’s all around feel is felt quickly within the opening moments, as we are placed in the quiet suburban town of Garrison, New Jersey, the very town located across the river from New York City. Garrison is populated mostly by NYC cops. It could be assumed that this town which neighbors the Big Apple would be understandably attract policemen who want to raise a family away from the grime and crime of the city, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

The sheriff of Garrison is Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone), a heavy set figure who also happens to be handicapped by way of a bad ear. This makes him a bit of a slow wit in the eye of the town, but the cops who live there admire him very much. Especially Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), one of the veteran cops who resides in Garrison. Ray is the leader of a band of cops who go by their own code of ethics, and who are virtually untouchable. Freddy knows their ways, and Ray knows that he knows, and he also knows that Freddy won’t do a thing except keep quiet.

The story is set into masterful motion through an early sequence that is a pure stunner, and one that will set the pace for how future events unfold. It involves Ray’s nephew, Murray (Michael Rapaport), a fellow NYC cop who goes by the nickname Superboy. He becomes involved in an unexpected hit and run on the George Washington Bridge, as he ends up shooting and killing two men while attempting to pull them over after witnessing some reckless driving. Moments later, Ray and his unit arrive on the scene and go to work, which includes a heavy level of planting evidence. Others on the scene witness the foul play, and Murray nerves hit a big time high. It isn’t long after that when it is revealed to everybody that Murray jumped to his death off of the bridge.

It appears that way, but the level of deception couldn’t more present. Before long, Ray is going so far as to have the appearance of a funeral and full media coverage of the incident. Ray’s reason for doing this may very well have to do with keeping Internal Affairs off his back. A single report of illegal conduct could bury Ray and his unit easily, and Internal Affairs has been on Ray’s tail for quite sometime. But the crooked veteran cop’s connections are so high, that any evidence against him can only be concrete.

Still, the slow Freddy is forced to keep his silence even as he becomes aware of the extreme fraud. When he gets an unexpected visit from I.A. rep Moe Tilden (Robert DeNiro), Freddy is given a slight bit of verbal pressure to do the right thing, even if it means stepping up to the very men who’ve done nothing short of manipulate him and the town which they’ve made their own. In a stunning pivotal scene, Freddy confronts Ray in a public bar, telling him he pretty much intends to bring everything out into the open.

At the time of its release, the big news surrounding the film was the fact that Sylvester Stallone, in addition to making a monumental return to dramatic acting, gained near 40 pounds for the part of the out of shape sheriff. The commitment to the part did not hurt one bit. Cop Land is a pure revelation for Stallone as a serious actor, and he shows a dimension here that goes beyond that of even Rocky. Plus, to see him play such an inferior character in a film that also requires him to have some intense exchanges with the likes of Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta and Robert DeNiro is something of an event in itself.

Rich with elements of character, story and some intense action, Cop Land is an outstanding hybrid of a contemporary thriller and an urban western. Writer/director Mangold, who went on to breathe life into the horror genre with Identity, has solidified himself as a top flight filmmaker who has a distinct eye for who and what his characters and story are all about. Stallone and the rest of the cast are nothing short of remarkable; in what is without question one of the strongest films dealing with police corruption.

Video ****

Miramax had released this movie early in their DVD period, which meant that of a second rate, non-anamorphic look. Now, thanks to this new Special Director’s Edition, the film has been given the proper makeover. Picture quality is at a most standout level, making the sets in both New Jersey and NYC appear in a more lifelike way. Colors are equally strong, in addition. No image flaws detected at any moment, in both daytime and nighttime shots. Expertly done!

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix supplied here adds a unique dose of power to the film. Although the real drive of the film lies within the dialogue, there are individual moments of action where the sound really comes into play. The striking final moment, shot completely in slow motion and given limited sound based on a character’s perspective, is not only the standout portion of the disc, but one of the best moments I’ve experienced on DVD this year. High marks all the way.

Features ***1/2

Miramax has added this title, thoughtfully, to its prestigious Collector’s Edition series, and the disc does have a good deal to spare. For starters, the movie itself has been given an extra 11 minutes of cut footage. In addition, there’s a commentary track from writer/director James Mangold, producer Cathy Konrad, and stars Sylvester Stallone and Robert “T-1000” Patrick. Also included are an extra number of Deleted Scenes with optional commentary, a storyboard of the climatic shootout, and a behind the scenes documentary titled “The Making of an Urban Western”.


Cop Land offers not only a top notch cast at the height of their game, as well as a sheer dose of pure cinematic entertainment, but also makes for one of the year’s best re-issues thanks to this top quality Special Edition offering, courtesy of the nice folks at Miramax.