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Cop Land: Collector's Series

There's a long-standing controversy over Michael Mann's 1995 film Heat. In it, leads Al Pacino and Robert De Niro share exactly one scene together in a three hour movie, yet the way the scene is shot and cut suggests the two didn't really didn't appear together. Some folks weren't happy — after all, one of the film's big selling points was seeing these two '70s icons on screen together for the first time. But what James Mangold's Cop Land (1997) proves is that Mann was right to shoot it that way — Mangold does the same thing with many of his powerhouse leads. De Niro shares scenes with both Sylvester Stallone and old friend Harvey Keitel, and Mangold makes sure to keep the actors out of each other's shots as much as possible. The reason for this becomes obvious: When A-list actors and stars share the frame (particularly when they represent opposing viewpoints), the audience can't be sure who to look at. It's distracting. Being chock-full of such leads is what made Cop Land's reputation, and it's one of the reasons why the film seemed to be a misfire upon release: Scorsese vets De Niro, Keitel, Ray Liotta, Frank Vincent, and Cathy Moriarty appear alongside such other notable talents as Robert Patrick, Annabella Sciorra, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, and Michael Rappaport, and yet the picture focuses mostly on Stallone in a character-driven performance — he was trying to ditch his (brainless) action-star image with this effort, and audiences expected something more from this cast than a character study. But the movie's box office failure should come as no surprise; such efforts (like underperformers Punch Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) tend to end up alienating the star's fans by not fulfilling their normal roles, while also proving problematic to art-film aficionados who have trouble supporting a title that seems to be aping mainstream sensibilities. The years have proved a bit kinder to Cop Land — although it still feels smaller than its cast.

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Stallone stars as Freddy Heflin, the sheriff of a small New Jersey town nicknamed "Cop Land" because it's inhabited by New York cops who moved there to be away from the city and its crime. Freddy has always dreamed of being in the NYPD, but because of a hearing loss he suffered while saving Liz Randone's (Annabella Sciorra) life, he's never made it that far, always been regarded as a nice guy, but maybe a bit dumb. But Heflin gets sucked into big league drama when Murray 'Superboy' Babitch (Michael Rappaport) gets into a shoot-out with two unarmed black youths when one points a steering wheel lock at him that Murray mistakes for a weapon. Murray's uncle is Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) — he and his men try to clean up the scene of the crime by planting evidence, but others on the scene are suspicious of their acts, which leads Murray to (supposedly) commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. Internal Affairs Lt. Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro) suspects something hinky, but he can't find any real evidence. Thus, he puts pressure on both Heflin and Donlan to come clean. At first looking to protect Donlan out of loyalty to his neighborhood, the fact that so many of the cops around Cop Land are dismissive of Freddy and his best friend/undercover cop Gary "Figgsy" Figgis (Ray Liotta) leads Heflin to search for the truth, especially after Freddy sees Babitch and fears Ray and his boys will kill him to keep their hands clean. And after Liz's no good husband Joey (Peter Berg) winds up dead, perhaps more because he was sleeping with Donlan's wife Rose (Cathy Moriarty) than anything else. A mannered "small" film, director Mangold does a fairly good job with Cop Land, establishing all of the characters and the sweep of the piece, but because there are so many great performers, one expects it to be more profound than the neo-western it is (after all is said and done, it's simply a movie about a sheriff cleaning up a town). The real star of the piece is Liotta as Figgsy, who's smarter than Freddy and has more weighty moral issues hanging over him, and as such his decision to pursue good carries more gravitas. Also of note is that, at the time of the film's release, the incessant mentioning of Stallone pulling a De Niro by gaining 40 pounds for his part, which became the least-interesting celebrity factoid of 1997. Miramax double dips Cop Land in a Collector's Series edition, which contains the director's cut (previously released on Laserdisc) running 116 minutes, 14 minutes longer than the theatrical release. It is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements include an audio commentary with Stallone (who proves to be a fairly sharp commentator), Mangold, Robert Patrick, and producer Cathy Konrad; two deleted scenes with optional commentary; storyboard comparisons (2 min.); and a "making-of" featurette (14 min.). Keep-case.

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