Courtesy Photo
Directed by James Mangold

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Peter Berg, Michael Rappaport, Janeane Garofalo, Annabella Sciorra & Cathy Moriarty

"Cop Land"

Opened: August 15, 1997 | Rated: R

"Cop Land" is being touted as an ensemble piece, what with a top-of-the-bill cast that includes Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta, as crooked New York cops running a crime syndicate out of a sleepy New Jersey town, and Robert De Niro as an Internal Affairs officer riding their pecs.

Their performances are no less than you would expect from these gifted actors. But this is Sylvester Stallone's movie.

In this, his proficient graduation to acting roles that actually require acting, Stallone plays Freddie, the town's milquetoast sheriff, a dispirited sad sack who sees the man he never became in the policemen populating his town.

He once had it in him to be a hero -- as a younger man, he even saved a girl from drowning in a crashed car -- but now he's the guy you call when someone has put their trash in your garbage can, and he hates himself for it.

Helmed by sophomore writer-director James Mangold ("Heavy"), "Cop Land" is a Scorsese-styled fairy tale of Freddie's last chance to prove his worth to himself.

This man who is afraid to even give a speeding ticket to the cops in his town, stumbles across the truth behind an on-duty shooting they're covering up. Under pressure from I.A. investigator De Niro and corrupt ring leader Keitel, he's forced to choose between his duty and his fantasy connections to the big city beat.

Mangold deftly balances Freddie's genteel suburban beat against the grit the NYPD boys bring home with them from the city. The story treads some overly familiar territory, but he approaches many scenes with a uncommon eye.

Each recycled cop story staple is given a slightly fresh twist, like the inevitable shoot-out between Freddie and the crooked cops, which is shot from Freddie's perspective and in muffled tones because Freddie is partially deaf.

Mangold's script was interesting enough to draw enormous stars willing to work their buns off for scale, and while this young director isn't the Scorsese he tries to be, "Cop Land" is an impressive second effort that bodes well for a long career.

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