Copland (The Director's Cut)

Dir: James Mangold. 1997. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta. Action.
Copland (The Director's Cut)

Garrison, New Jersey is a pleasant place to live. Just over the Hudson River from New York City, this calm suburb is home to many NYPD police officers. These men who spend their days fighting crime on the streets of the Big Apple built this community in order to provide a safe haven to raise their families. But thing are not always what they seem, when the cops are corrupt and the law in Garrison is whatever they deem it to be.

The story kicks off on the George Washington Bridge. Officer Ray Donlan (Kietel) decides it’s best to fake the death of his nephew, Murray “Superboy” Babith (Rappaport), to avoid what could be seen as a racially motivated murder at the hands of a cop. That decision begins the spiral what will unfold, spilling over into their humble little community.

Writer-Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) weaves a deeply felt urban western about the balance of justice in a small town. The script is crackling with wonderfully constructed characters and authentic dialogue. The world Mangold provides is thoroughly imagined, nuanced, and rings with authenticity. The intricacy of the plot and the weight of the characters give it the gravity of a novel in its emotional depth.

The style of lighting and camerawork by Director of Photography, Eric Edwards, alongside Howard Shore’s menacing score, really captures an aesthetic akin with American cinema of the 1970’s. Mangold’s direction of this powerhouse of performers is sure handed. What starts as a “mob movie” movie about dirty coppers, Copland transforms into a classic Western. It’s impressive to watch the transition from one story type into another, when done so fluidly.

There are few films that come to mind that have better casting than this one. From top to bottom, the strength of the screenplay, brought a fantastic assortment of veteran actors to the table.

As the dumpy, half-deaf, assumingly dumb-witted sheriff of “Copland,” “Freddy Heflin,” Sylvester Stallone (Rambo) delivers what may be the finest performance of his long career. He is a man who is subjected to be little more than a meter maid by the big city cops, who he admires so very much. There is an acute and heartbreaking sadness in the way Stallone plays Freddy, as he toils away, pining after a woman he’s loved since high school. He really captures an absolute morality, with a subtle, understated ease. The story’s arch belongs to Freddie, as we watch a peaceful man have to come to terms with the seediness all around him. And in line with the Western motif, coming to realize that it is he alone who must stand up and settle things in the street.

Robert De Niro (The Good Shepard) plays “Mo Tilton,” a quiet, seasoned and observant internal affairs cop, who is investigating the boys in blue living in the Jersey suburbs. Tilton is a man who seeks truth and justice above all else, even if it makes every other cop hate his guts. He begins pushing Freddy’s buttons to get him to wake up and truly become a man, whatever the cost.

Harvey Kietel (Pulp Fiction) is sinister as the top dog in town. Although known for “getting loud” in many of his roles, Kietel plays “Ray Donlan” as a ruthless scumbag always with a smile and a soft-spoken word. He talks to Freddy like he is no more than a child with zero understanding of how the adult world works.

Ray Liotta (Narc) is frenzied and paranoid (what he does best) as a cokehead cop on the fringe, “Figgsy,” who blames Donlan for his beloved partner’s death. His scenes with Stallone are really entertaining, because every time Freddy tried to propose any idea or dream of his, Figgsy takes a big dump all over it.

Jason Patrick (Terminator 2) is fantastically sleazy as “Jack Rucker,” Donlan’s amoral right-hand-man with a badge. This is truly one of the best roles of his career, thus far.

The supporting cast is one of the best in recent memory. Peter Berg (A Midnight Clear), Michael Rappaport (True Romance), Annabella Sciorra (Romeo is Bleeding), John Spencer (TV’s West Wing), Frank Vincent (Goodfellas), Cathy Moriarity (Raging Bull) and Janeane Garofalo (Ratatouille) all turn in solid acting.

This morality tale of a small town sheriff explores the gray areas of civic duty and how one man, when underestimated, can turn the world on its head. Copland is one of the finest cops films ever produced and one of the best in any genre in the last twenty years.

For real film buffs, the Director’s Cut offers an interesting and highly entertaining commentary track with James Mangold, actors Stallone and Patrick, and producer Cathy Konrad.

Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Sep 23, 2008 5:34pm
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