Cop Land (1997)

  • Time: 104 min
  • Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
  • Director: James Mangold
  • Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta


Sometime in the 1970’s, police officers from New York wanted a safe haven to live, away from the dangers of the streets of New York, this is when they established a “Cop Land” in the small New Jersey town of Garrison. Freddy Heflin who was always admired by the New York cops wanted to become one, but because he was deaf in one ear this prevents him from achieving his goal, but has become sheriff of Garrison. Recently there have been a dark omen surrounding the NYPD, and Freddy is now investigating on this case, then Internal Affairs officer Mo Tilden is also on the case and asks Freddy for help, but Freddy could not. Now Freddy suspects that a New York cop named Ray Donlan might be one of the many cops who is corrupted by the mob and other criminals. Now, Freddy must find a cop who is nicknamed “Superboy” who can testify against Donlan and protect him, before Donlan finds Superboy and kills him.


  • It is rare for people to step out of their comfort bubble. Even actors, for as successful as they are, they too suffer from breaking what they are comfortable at performing in. Here’s a film that not every Stallone fan might see everyday – similarly to that of The Truman Show (1998) a year later with Jim Carrey. This particular role is so far in left field for Sylvester Stallone that it almost seems like the wrong choice. When in fact, it proves that Stallone by far can still back a punch even when he’s not pulling a trigger every five minutes.

    Stallone plays Freddy Heflin, the Sheriff of a small town in New Jersey called Garrison. All seems fine and well with the town and Freddy himself until an incident occurs on the George Washington bridge that connects the New York and New Jersey police departments. After the problems arise, Freddy is challenged on his thoughts and beliefs that he had never considered before. This is where things get interesting and dangerous simultaneously. As time goes on, Heflin begins to dig and as he digs, he discovers that everything is not as he thought.

    The writing is something to behold here. Directed and written by James Mangold, the same man behind Walk the Line (2005), 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and most recently The Wolverine (2013), created a screenplay that not only defies the normal typecasts that most actors have, but also adds depth to the main character of Freddy Helfin. If it weren’t for any of the background given to Stallone’s character, the audience would have no idea about Heflin’s past and why he acts the way he is in the movie. When it is revealed though, it’s a heartfelt story that contains a lot of emotion. Even more interesting is how little Stallone uses a gun. Not only is Stallone overweight but he barely even raises his voice – which is rare. The character of Heflin is very self contained and covers it up well.

    Also playing a role that is out his usual casting role is Ray Liotta. For anyone who’s not familiar, Liotta frequently plays scumbags and creeps. A good example of this is from Unlawful Entry (1992) and a bad example is from Turbulence (1997). But what wasn’t seen coming was Liotta playing not only a supporting character but also a tactical one. There is one scene where he explains to Stallone’s character how he should take on convicted felons and the advice he gives is extremely noteworthy. Liotta, you should be doing this more often my friend. Along with him are Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, future director Peter Berg, Robert Patrick, Noah Emmerich from The Truman Show (1998) (how coincidental!), and just for laughs Mr. RoboCop 3 (1993) himself, Robert John Burke. All the actors, even the ones not mentioned do a fine job.

    What also makes this movie a fish out of water role for Sylvester Stallone is how human the story makes him look. This isn’t a movie where Stallone mows down villains with a rapid-fire gun without taking any hits. Stallone’s character is flawed and limited, humanizing him for the entire running time. That’s something serious. Adding to the realism of the story is the cinematography where most scenes take place in the suburbs or along the shore outside the city. Finally what helps complete this feeling is Howard Shore’s score to the film. It isn’t the strongest of film music but it does contain some very simple themes that help bring out the emotion of various scenes. Overall a very strong drama / thriller.

    It’s not your regular Stallone shoot ’em up and that’s fine. The entire cast in the movie performs great. The music isn’t complex but is well supported by a strong cast and character driven story.

    Points Earned –> 9:10

  • When hotheaded rookie cop Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport) – known by his friends as Superboy- gets involved in an ugly racially-motivated incident, his uncle Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), a corrupt New York cop attempts to cover it up by faking his nephew’s death. The botched cover-up leads to an investigation by idealistic Internal Affairs agent, Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) and Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone), sheriff of New Jersey suburban town where Ray and his crooked policemen live.

    Long before James Mangold ever directed 3:10 To Yuma and The Wolverine, he directed Cop Land, a gritty and highly underrated police drama starring a knockout cast of: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta. What I love most about this movie is the script, the story is so well structured and multi-layered that it had me interested throughout. The film is very definition of a slow-burning drama, the script takes it’s time but it develops everything so very well and in the end I found myself watching an absorbing cop drama with even more absorbing characters. Back in ’97 when this movie came out Sylvester Stallone was widely praised for his performance in the film and mainly because Stallone got off his macho high-horse and took a serious role for once and yes, he is great, probably at his best since Rocky, but so is everyone else. Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta are nothing short of amazing either, in fact I found Keitel the most impressive.

    The film, and quite a lot of it felt heavily inspired by Scorsese. The characters are characters you would see in Martin Scorsese movies, the plotting, story-telling draw a kind of an eerie resemblance to his films too but ultimately the film does stand on its own two feet and delivers a story worth telling, one that kept me wanting more. All in all, Cop Land is a solid police drama, it’s got a great story, compelling, well written characters and an all-star cast that definitely delivers. Cop Land is heavily recommended.


    -Khalid Rafi

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