directed by James Mangold
One of the single best westerns of the past two and a half decades takes the form of an NYC slash New Jersey cop drama that features a cast so chock full of talent that it puts a Tarantino film to shame. James Mangold’s Cop Land is so quintessential in its perfection that you almost see the iconic western giants in his writing, as if he was channeling Burt Kennedy or Leigh Brackett. Sylvester Stallone channels a wounded Robert Mitchum and gives the second best performance of his career (there is no possible way to top Rocky) as Freddy Heflin, the sloppy tub of a sherrif in charge of Cop Land (aka Garrison, NJ). When city cop Murray “Superboy” Babitch (Michael Rapaport is never less than perfect. Ever.) goes missing after a dubious traffic incident, Internal Affairs agent Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) looks to Freddy for help. Lame duck Freddy has a bum ear and a dim bulb demeanor that may threaten to gum up Tilden’s op, but the way Mangold unfolds his tale is careful and astounding. Sure, Mr. M has made some ho hum stuff since then, but he also made Walk the Line, which kicked effing ass (starring everyone’s favorite actor turned jackass, Joaquin Phoenix). The ensemble cast in Cop Land fills in every possible gap to create a feeling that the film could have been based on a true story, and the pseudo throwback fashion, cars and references make the film even more realistic. And Annabella Sciorra can melt even the hardest heart with simply a smile (I just swooned a little). Cop Land is a true blue American western classic that any film lover should be proud to own.
A transpositional experiment: If the film were to be made as a traditional western 50 years ago, who would have been cast in the key roles?
1997-Robert De Niro
1960-John Wayne or Randolph Scott
1960-Lee Marvin (though I would have loved to see JW give a bad guy turn just once, and this would have been some role to chew on.)
1960-Michael Rapaport (you didn’t know? MR can travel through time at will. He’s that good.)
1960- Who else? Claudia Cardinale