The next time you're rolling around in a sea of Mountain Dew cans andBurger King wrappers bemoaning your own obscurity, remember, at leastyou're not Sylvester Stallone.
I've grown to love him, but there was a time--for a lot of us, Ithink--when having his name attached to a movie was a sure sign ofsomething I ought to avoid like refried poison. But blind prejudicehas its perks. Once you find out what you've been missing out on, youget to go back and discover all the things your past self rejected outof hand. Prime example, and this week's entry for Cop Month: 1997'sCop Land.
In the sleepy Jersey suburb where NYPD officer Harvey Keitel and manyof his precinct live, sheriff Stallone is supposed to turn a blind eyeto their local wrongdoing. But when a coverup for Keitel's nephewinvolves fake deaths, a visit from internal affairs officer Robert DeNiro, and mob violence, Stallone finally prepares to take a stand.
It was a real shock to me when I watched Rocky for the firsttime a few years back and discovered Stallone doing something I'dnever seen him try before: acting. In Cop Land, he'ssuccessfully cast against type as a pushover and a loser, a guy whocouldn't win over Annabella Sciorra even after he saved her life,which a) I think is pretty disrespectful and b) means I shouldprobably rethink my plans to find a wife by camping out under the 240and littering the overpass with banana peels.
Then again, maybe Stallone just got into a crazy act-off with the restof the cast. Cop Land's billing is as stacked as the Yankeeslineup: along with De Niro and Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, andJaneane Garofalo pitch in. Never thought I'd say this, but none ofthem quite match up to Stallone.
Better yet, writer/director James Mangold knows what to do with them,building a tangled world of big-city corruption around small-townrelationships that carry the weight of years spent hanging around thesame diners and bars together.
It makes for an air of quiet menace that reminds me of a lot of thegreat California noir. Then, like those, it boils over, dousing thetown in hot steamy crime and driving Stallone on a lonely buttriumphant crusade against it in an echo (or, since this happenedfirst, a reverse echo) of Mangold's recent 3:10 to Yuma. CopLand is one of the surprises of my movie-watching career, a pieceI expected to be trash but which ended up a minor treasure.