Cop Land - * * *

The latest Sylvester Stallone film isn’t much like a Sylvester Stallone film. Sure, Stallone plays the good guy, and bullets occassionally fly, but there are actually characters and a plot involved here! Cop Land is, at its heart, a morality play, in which the non-traditional Stallone must decide what is right.

Stallone takes the role of Freddie Heflin, sheriff of Garrison, New Jersey. Garrison was founded, and is home to, New York City cops who wanted a safe community to raise their families in. Although Freddie is the sheriff, the cops really run the town, giving meek Freddie little more to do than catch out-of-town speeders, and wish he was NYPD.

A childhood accident prevented his ever becoming a NYPD cop. While saving the life of a beautiful girl, Liz (Annabella Sciorra), from drowning, he lost the hearing in one ear, but remained smitten for Liz. Liz, however, ignored Freddie and married an actual NYPD cop, Joey Randone (Peter Berg). But, of course, Freddie still pines for her.

The core of Cop Land revolves around a scandal caused when a young hero cop, Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport), aka “Superboy”, gets involved in a racial incident, and apparently commits suicide. His uncle, Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), was one of the founders of Garrison, and is accused of planting evidence at the scene, and faking Murray’s death.

All this leads Internal Affairs investigator, Moe Tilden (Robert DeNiro), into Freddie’s little town. His prodding may uncover layers of corruption under the town, and Freddie is reluctant to help him and tarnish the image of his friends and heroes.

Cop Land is filled with great actors strutting their stuff. In addition to those mentioned above, Ray Liotta apears as Gary Figgis, a shady cop who is Freddie’s best friend. Cathy Moriarty is Ray’s weary wife, Rose. Janeane Garofalo and Noah Emmerich also appear as Freddie’s deputies.

Stallone has picked a good vehicle for his latest career makeover (playing much better than his last one–his pathetic foray into comedy during the early 90s). Freddie Heflin is his most interesting character since Rocky Balboa first strutted upon the screen. At first, surrounding himself with acting heavyweights might seem to be a bad idea (pick the actor who doesn’t belong…), but Stallone holds his own with the crowd, proving he still has some acting muscle. His scenes with Annabella Sciorra are particularly strong.

Director James Mangold has developed a complex, yet familiar, morality play. At times it seems as if he may too many things going on all at once, but he handles it well, and none of the plot threads get lost. His collection of actors ensures that even those who coast through their roles (DeNiro, and Moriarty) have depth and weight.

Unfortunately, just as we’re getting used to the complex, detailed story, the film rushes to a close. The ending is well-made and intense, yet disappointing. It comes on too quickly, and solves everything too simplistically, and isn’t worthy of the film that preceded it.

Still, get these actors together and it’d almost be interesting to see them simply milling about. However, they do much more than that, and ill-conceived ending aside, the film is worthy to watch, and the best Stallone’s been in years.

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