Copland The Director's Cut (1997) dir. James Mangold
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel, Michael Rapaport, Robert Patrick
by Reece Crothers
James Mangold has kept a comparatively low profile among his contemporaries of the Miramax 90s in part because he has avoided the auteur label by never repeating himself, shifting genres and styles from picture to picture. Consider that Cop Land is only his second picture and that his first was the slight, near-silent "Heavy", a Sundance favourite two years prior, a modest romantic drama in the tradition of "Marty", about an overweight young man hopelessly in love with dream girl Liv Tyler. There is nothing in "Heavy" to suggest the scope and gravity of "Cop Land", an ensemble epic crime picture that often feels like a Western. A collision of John Ford and Martin Scorsese's worlds.
Making up the ensemble is an embarrassment of acting riches, supporting star Sly Stallone (giving the best performance of his career) are heavyweights like Scorsese's leading men Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and even Raging Bull's Cathy Moriarty (smoldering and sexy in a small role) alongside 90's staple Michael Rappaport, Robert Patrick (at his best, too - it will make you forget about the T-1000), Annabella Sciorra, Paul Calderone (of Pulp Fiction, Clockers, King of New York), Janeane Garofalo (in a rare dramatic turn as a sherif's deputy!) and Arthur Nascarella (Summer Of Sam), a former NYPD detective, who like fellow cop-turned actor Dennis Farina, wears a lifetime of experience in his cop face. Watching Keitel and De Niro play off each other is a great treat. That it is nowhere near the most memorable scene speaks volumes about the picture - as great as everyone else is, Stallone owns the picture.
Following in his co-star's shoes, Sly famously gained a staggering amount of weight to play Freddy, the flabby small town New Jersey sheriff in over his head with a town full of crooked big city cops. Liotta is great too, giving off the kind of sparks that made him so electric in Goodfellas and Something Wild. His "Rule of Diagonals" speech is terrific.
The director's cut runs 116 minutes, about 12 minutes longer than the theatrical version. I'm not going to list all of the additions, though the excellent commentary track Mangold shares with Stallone, Patrick, and producer Cathy Konrad will, but the overall effect is that the film breathes more and despite the added footage, the picture moves faster, culminating in a shoot-out climax that has some of the best sound design in any film of its genre. The music by Howard Shore is beautiful, hypnotic and haunting, as we have come to expect from Cronenberg's favourite composer. There's also a little Springsteen thrown in to nail that melancholy Jersey feeling - something nobody does better than The Boss.
"Cop Land" has aged well, improved even - gorgeous to look at, elegant, thrilling, sad, and even touching, a film that will one day be regarded as a classic.