Turn Back the Clock


Cop Land

Distributed by Miramax Films

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            I don't know what made me rent the movie Cop Land - maybe it was the ensemble cast or the premise of the film.  All I know is that I stood there in Blockbuster Video (remember that?) thinking, this might be an interesting movie.  The movie made a lasting impression and I still enjoy it years later.  I just recently re-watched the film with someone who had never seen it.

            Cop Land takes place sometime in the 1970s when crime was rampant in New York and the city was a dangerous place.  Some NYPD officers decided that it was high time they moved their families to a safer place.  They created a haven for cops across the Hudson River in Garrison, New Jersey.  But something is not quite right in this town...something about the residents here stinks of corruption.

            And it all comes out shortly after off duty NYPD Officer Murray Babitch (Michael Rappaport) gets involved in a shooting on the George Washington Bridge.  Learning that the two black males who had sideswiped his car were not armed, Babitch realizes that it was a bad shoot and he may lose his shield.  Uncle Ray Donovan (Harvey Keitel) to the rescue.  Lt. Donovan makes his nephew disappear, claiming he jumped off of the bridge. 

            Strange thing about that claim - no one can find the body and Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) never saw a body hit the water that night while gazing at the bridge after his own car accident.  Sheriff Heflin had always wanted to be NYPD, but couldn't get on the job due to the hearing loss suffered after saving a woman from drowning.  Luckily enough, he was offered this sheriff's job by...guess who...Lt. Ray Donovan, a leader in the town of Garrison.    

            Freddy has looked the way quite often when the residents of the town have gotten out of hand.  After all, these guys are just boys in blue blowing off steam after hours, right?  But this time, Freddy finds it more and more difficult to look the other way, especially when he spots a man who is supposed to be dead in the back seat of Donovan's car and that same man comes to him for help after his uncle and his cronies try to kill him.  And when Internal Affairs Investigator Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) comes sniffing around, Freddy is reminded once again of why he wanted to be a cop.

            When this film came out in 1997, James Mangold was not a household name.  He had drawn attention with an independent film called Heavy, but had yet to gain the attention of the big production studios.  Several individuals had read and loved the screenplay Mangold had written based on his hometown of Washingtonville, but not all were onboard with his one condition for the film - that it also be directed by Mangold.  But soon, Miramax was hooked.  The only problem - the meager budget.  Actors like Sylvester Stallone, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and more believed in the project so much that they agreed to work for scale.

            It's testimony to the film's believable and captivating story that so many stars signed on.  This is an all star cast - in addition to Stallone, Liotta, Keitel, Rappaport and De Niro, Cop Land also starred Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Peter Berg, John Spencer, Malik Yoba, Annabella Sciorra and more.  (Funny enough, a majority of the actors in this film playing cops have also played mobsters at one time or another.)  Stallone is not one of the greatest actors out there, but he is incredibly believable in this role and his supporting cast is spot on. 

            But even if you didn't have this amazing ensemble cast, the story is intriguing enough to make you want to watch.  It's not just a story about crooked cops, but a story about redemption...about having the guts to do the right thing even when no one believes in you.  Freddy Heflin believes he is a loser - he saved the girl only for the girl to marry someone else - an NYPD cop, he lost the only job he ever really wanted thanks to saving that girl and he's sitting as a sheriff in a town filled with police officers who want him to look the other way.  Everyone looks at him like he's a loser, so why shouldn't he believe it?  It's only when he sees this opportunity to do the right thing and realizes just how corrupt his former heroes were, that Freddy starts to believe in himself...to believe in doing the right thing because it's what HE believes in.  Ray Liotta's character, Gary Figgis, is a corrupt cop who is tired of it all.  He's trying to get away from it, but in all the wrong ways.  The redemption we see in this character is also quite special, though I don't want to give away too much. 

            Cop Land is a great, low budget film with a huge cast and a terrific storyline that I can watch again and again and never grow tired of.  And that friend who had never seen the movie - not only did she love it, but she was actually yelling at the main character trying to talk some sense into him during the film.  If you get that deep into a film that you expect the main character to listen to your rants, you know the film is good.


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