Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cop Land (1997, director's cut) 3 of 4

"Being white isn't a bullet-proof vest."
   - Ray Liotta, Cop Land

Sadly, the above line is more resonant given the wave of police shootings of black males in the U.S.  This film's plot is triggered by the cover-up of a police shooting of black men.  Although Cop Land is not specifically about racism, it's interesting that part of the problem here is cops who have little more faith in the system than do African-Americans, and so they immediately decide to foil any investigation.  

** moderate spoilers ahead **

Cop Land is set mostly in a small town in northern New Jersey that's become a haven for New York City police officers, most of them with Irish or Italian surnames.  (The end credits note that NYC cops are now required to live in-state, presumably to avoid just this type of situation).  The town is inhospitable to people of color, but that's arguably the least of the crimes engineered by the town's power-broker, veteran cop Ray Donlan, played by Harvey Keitel.

Keitel's eventual opponent is Sylvester Stallone as the town's nominal sheriff, Freddy Heflin, kept off the big-city force by partial deafness, the result of his saving a drowning man as a teen.  Robert DeNiro, in his nerdy mode of The King of Comedy and The Good Shepherd, plays the Internal Affairs cop who rouses Freddy's law-enforcing instincts.  As Stallone sets about rattling the skeletons, he loses friends but regains self-respect.

** end spoiler section **

The remarkable cast also includes Peter Berg, Robert Patrick, Michael Rappaport, Annabella Sciorra, and Cathy Moriarty. This is one of those movies you sit there watching and wonder how this wasn't a hit with multiple award nominations.  The content may have made people nervous, but sadly, the problem might have simply been the industry's now-notorious loss of interest in mid-budget films, which demand deft marketing for a relatively modest payday.  The top-drawer cast got the film made, but they couldn't force the suits to market the film.
Cop Land was released in August, which indicates it was dumped: this is not a summer action movie, but a classically filmed, socially aware crime drama, in fact you must pay close attention to follow the plot.  Some people find the ending too abrupt, and I admit the film isn't the all-time classic of the vaguely similar (but more mythic) The Place Beyond the Pines, itself a box-office casualty.  Still, Cop Land is a fine, involving film with a strong sense of place and a smart and clearly well-researched script, made with impressive craft in all areas.  Forget Grudge Match, if you want to see Stallone and Deniro together here's your film.
Cop Land was written and directed by James Mangold, known for directing Identity, Girl, Interrupted, and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma.  Mangold grew up in the New York area and attended Columbia University, and the quality of his resume leaves me intrigued by his other writing-directing efforts, Heavy and Kate and Leopold.  

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