This was covered by The Rewatchables podcast a couple weeks back because of Ray Liotta’s passing. I watched it then, but I’m just now getting around to writing my full article.
Cop Land is one of those movies that I thought I should love but always thought was okay. But I keep returning to it, thinking, “This will be the time that it clicks, and I love it.” But it never happens. Instead, it’s just a movie I like. I blame expectations.
Cop Land isn’t the first movie to be hyped for awards and then be a disappointment, but it is the first time I noticed this happening with a film. This came out when I was just starting to appreciate movies and pay attention to industry news and whatnot. So when this movie went into production with this insane cast (Stallone, Keitel, Liotta, De Niro, etc.), the Oscar buzz was immediate. Then the movie came out, was decently received but was shutout of the awards season (except, according to IMDb, for Stallone winning Best Actor at the Stockholm Film Festival, and the film being nominated [though not winning] Best Foreign Film at the Turkish Film Critics Association Awards [The Ice Storm won]).
Despite my disappointment, I still like this movie. And once you adjust your expectations and stop thinking this is going to be Goodfellas 2, it ends up being even better. Stallone was, and still is, the standout in the film. It was like his last attempt to be a serious actor before retreating back into his franchises and mediocre action movies. He gives a great understated and unexpected performance.
Aside from that, I’ve developed a love for angry corrupt cop movies lately. So I’m just happy seeing drunk and/or high guys with mustaches yelling and punching each other.
Those were my complete thoughts about this film, but when I was looking it up on IMDb I realized that I had watched the theatrical cut on HBO Max, even though I owned the director’s cut on DVD. So being the idiot completionist that I am, I immediately watched it again to compare. Before I get into that, I just want to point out that I have to be the only dipshit to watch Cop Land twice in a 24 hour period since it was originally edited.
I’m not one to do an extensive comparison of theatrical and director’s cuts, especially since another website already does that. Instead, I like to focus on tonal shifts or specific scenes that change the movie in a meaningful way.
One of the things that always left me disappointed with Cop Land was the story. I found a lot of it hard to follow. Yes, almost every cop was corrupt, but what exactly was their corruption? The director’s cut (or maybe just watching it twice so close together) makes it a bit more clear that mob money helped Keitel set up the titular Cop Land in Jersey, and he keeps killing any cops that get into trouble with internal affairs out of fear that they will rat him out.
Even not completely understanding the story the first time around, I still found one moment completely baffling. Stallone goes to Keitel and tells him that he knows Rappaport is alive, and he wants everyone to go into the city together to clear things up. Why the fuck would he tell Keitel this when Keitel has clearly made up his mind about he does things? In the director’s cut, this scene occurs after Stallone has found Rappaport rather than before. He also explains that he’s telling Keitel about this because he feels like he owes it to him. I still think that’s pretty stupid, but I can accept it since Keitel is responsible for Stallone having his job. In the theatrical cut, this scene ends abruptly, but in the director’s cut Stallone is given a hero moment when he stands up to Keitel and tells him that he doesn’t like what’s happened to their city. Keitel eventually agrees with him and agrees to go in, though the music makes it clear that he’s not going to honor this.
The changes in this scene make the movie quite a bit better, and it reinstates a moment that Stallone’s character desperately needed. It’s not that much longer than the original cut, so I don’t understand why it ever happened in the theatrical cut as it did.
If the movie then ended exactly the way the theatrical cut did after this change, then this would be a truly great director’s cut. But for some reason, James Mangold (the writer and director I have failed to identify until now…oh well) decided to end the movie with the newscast footage rather than with Stallone back on the job. This baffled me. That ending is important for multiple reasons.
First, it solidifies that this is Stallone’s movie. It was about him waking up to the corruption around him and doing something about it. The ending moment shows him staring at New York City. He’s done this throughout the movie with sadness because he’s never been able to join the force because of his hearing. When he looks at the city at the end, it’s not with regret. Instead, he seems happy for the first time to be on this side of the river. To cut that out and end with newscast audio makes no sense. In the words of De Niro: “You blew it!”
The director’s cut is still a bit better, it’s just that losing the original ending is tough. Because of that, this isn’t one of those clear cut cases of recommending the director’s cut over the theatrical. Most people don’t have this on DVD, so you’ll probably end up watching this on a streaming service if you ever watch it again, and that’s fine because that last Stallone moment kind of makes up for any earlier confusion.
Overall, no cut of this film was going to make it the classic I wanted it to be. But watching it in today’s TV landscape made me realize something: this would have been an amazing TV show. The story could breathe a bit more, and there could have been a season or two of all the shit that happened before the events of this movie, which could have been the final season. Unfortunately, this movie was made right before TV became so much more respectable. This is one of those rare moments in which I truly wish this will get remade as a TV show.
After finishing We Own This City (the HBO series no one is watching but you’ve been told is amazing), I still had a hankering for corrupt cop drama. Thankfully, The Rewatchables decided to cover Cop Land because of Ray Liotta’s passing.
Fucking mustaches, drinking, yelling, throwing punches, everybody pissed off, cheating. I don’t know why, but sometimes I like watching these movies about complete trainwrecks at the end of their ropes.
With a cast like this at this time, it was impossible for this movie to meet expectations. It’s a good movie, but people were expecting a classic.
Nice touch to have the pinball machine tell Stallone he has “no authority.”
Robert Patrick is the most corrupt looking cop I have ever seen.
Peter Berg definitely looks like a dude who would cheat on his wife.
Oh shit, I forgot I own the director’s cut of this. Now I have to watch this twice.
“It’s like you’re the sheriff of Cop Land.”
(Pitch Meeting executive guy voice): “That’s the name of the movie!”
Damn, Superboy, I know you're hiding out, but you can eat something other than canned soup. There were about two dozen cans in that hideout!
Why is Liotta always wearing an oversized untucked shirt in this? Is that just how cokeheads dressed in the '90s?