' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...Cop Land

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Some Drivel On...Cop Land

The title of 1997’s “Cop Land” refers to a town in New Jersey predominantly of New York City cops, exploiting a loophole to live across the Hudson and beyond the reach of internal affairs and protected by slow-moving, slow-witted Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone). Freddy is the Will Kane in this “High Noon” scenario, gradually pushed to push back, though writer/director James Mangold’s novelistic tendency to overload the movie with character and plot has the unfortunate effect of thwarting the inherent tension in the build to this climactic showdown. That includes Freddy’s relationship with The Girl Who Got Away (Annabella Sciorra), so unconvincing that Mangold is forced to call up Bruce Springsteen on the soundtrack to carry it. Stallone, at least, helps sell some individual moments, sort of taking his chatty Rocky Balboa palooka energy and then re-channeling it as a taciturn pushover. Much was made at the time of the weight Stallone gained for the part, but in scenes opposite crooked cops played by Harvey Keitel and Robert Patrick, among others, Stallone virtually disappears. His somnolence, however, is so great that even as the climax approaches, Freddy seems to be merely dragged along in the screenplay’s wake rather than rousing himself to action.

The racial undertones of the inciting incident, meanwhile, in which the loudmouth nephew (Michael Rapaport Rapaporting) of the town’s head honcho, go unexplored, this lack of interest inadvertently underscoring real life, though at the same time, “Cop Land” quietly (presciently) twists the back the blue phrase inside-out, never showing these police on the case of anything but protecting their own. That’s what drives not just Freddy to extreme measures but Detective Gary “Figgsy” Figgis (Ray Liotta) too. If Stallone is remixing Rocky Balboa than, in a way, Liotta is remixing Henry Hill of “Goodfellas,” the red-eyed exhaustion that plagues the latter during his Busy Day virtually unchanged from the red-eyed exhaustion that plagues Figgsy throughout “Cop Land,” innately expressing in a way and to a degree the rest of the movie never quite can the muddy line between cop and criminal.

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