Under The Radar: Cop Land (1997)
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
Written and directed by James Mangold; director of photography, Eric Edwards; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Lester Cohen; produced by Cary Woods, Cathy Konrad and Ezra Swerdlow and released by Miramax Films. Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated R. WITH: Sylvester Stallone (Freddy Heflin), Harvey Keitel (Ray Donlan), Ray Liotta (Gary Figgis), Robert De Niro (Moe Tilden), Michael Rapaport (Murray Babitch), Cathy Moriarty (Rose Donlan), Janeane Garofalo (Cindy Betts) and Annabella Sciorra (Liz Randone).
Sylvester Stallone is without a doubt one of the biggest action icons of all time. With films like the Expendables, Rambo, Cliffhanger, Cobra, Demolition Man and of course who could ever forget “AAADRIIAANN!! from Rocky. Stallone not only starred in some of the most influential films of our time, but has directed and written the screenplays for many of his film projects. Now, regardless of his accomplishments, I believe he has been overlooked as an actor. Yes, you read that correctly, an actor. If you go back through his repertoire, there’s one film that has been overlooked and unfortunately forgotten, and that film is 1997’s Cop Land.
The film was released on August 15, 1997 with an estimated budget of 10 million dollars. Cop Land was directed by James Mangold (Logan, Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) and starred Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel & Ray Liotta.
The film is about a sheriff named Freddy Heflin (Stallone) who protects the small New Jersey town of Garrison. Garrison was set up as a haven for NYPD members and their families who wanted a safe place to live and earning its nickname, Cop Land. As the film unfolds we see that the town isn’t a haven but a front for those connected with the mob and corruption.
Upon its release, it seemed that people were only talking about how Stallone took a huge pay cut (60 thousand compared to his average 15 million), and how he put on 40-pounds for the role. What went under the radar however was his incredible performance in the film and how Stallone not only held his own against heavy weights De Niro, Keitel, and Liotta, but how he proved without doubt he didn’t need guns or boxing gloves to portray a captivating character.
The transformation from town push over to hero is very subtle but powerful. Stallone, once used an analogy to describe his characters’ transformation, “The ideal animal to mimic his character after was a turtle. He moves slowly, both in his physical mannerisms and action taken. His protective shell is his uniform, but it’s not the uniform he wants to wear. It’s merely the only one he has. Yet once his curiosity is piqued, he’s sternly determined.”
I totally agree with that analogy. If we look at the film, we see that Stallone would have, heck even could have, been a great cop with the NYPD had he not lost his hearing by diving into the Hudson river years before in order to save Liz played by Annabella Sciorra. Now, although he wears a Sheriff’s uniform, it’s not the one he wants, so he lives in his self-made shell believing that he isn’t worth anything or he shouldn’t be doing anything because he doesn’t wear the same badge and uniform as Keitel or Liotta. It’s with that turtle-like manner that Freddy comes out of his shell and sets out to stop the corruption in his town thus becoming the “cop” that he was always meant to be .
I believe that Cop Land is a great film, but movie audiences were just not ready for the not so perfect action hero that Stallone was portraying. Personally, I would love to see Stallone tackle another drama like Cop Land.
So, if you like Stallone and really enjoy dramas then I strongly suggest you search out Cop Land, and see Stallone’s’ best underdog performance since Rocky.