Copland (1997 with Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro)


USA / 1997

Director and Writer: James Mangold

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Peter Berg

Rocky meets Raging Bull in this heavyweight tale reworking High Noon as a tale of endemic police corruption featuring two actors at the opposite end of the method metronome.

It follows NYPD officer Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport), whose drunken night out ends in tragedy when he mistakes two joyriders for armed criminals, killing them in a car crash. Senior cop Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) is first on the scene, and orchestrates a cover-up planting a gun in the police car and claiming suicide, while Babitch is quietly taken to the town of Garrison, New Jersey, a commuter town full of (and run by) New York cops.

Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) is Garrison’s sheriff: a bloated wannabe cop whose heroics in rescuing a local girl from drowning have left him half deaf. Ridiculed and ignored, Heflin’s only ally is undercover cop Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta), who is fully aware of the town’s corruption. Into the mix comes Internal Affairs Investigator Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro), who suspects foul play in the Babitch case but is unable to prove anything without Freddy and Gary’s assistance. Will the two lawmen choose an easy silence, or uncomfortable justice?

After just one picture (Heavy), James Mangold was considered worthy of a cast usually employed by Scorsese, whose influence is evident from De Niro’s Taxi Driver-style voiceover to the casting of Liotta as a privileged insider, a la Goodfellas. Comparisons with another film are also unavoidable, as Stallone underwent rapid weight gain (40lb) in the mould of Jake La Motta.

It was worth it. In the actor’s hands, Heflin may be awkward and past it, but his integrity – the film’s moral compass – is unarguable and wholly convincing. And while Mangold becomes enrapt in the large supporting cast to the point of distraction it’s Heflin who commands attention, and makes you care.