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Film / Cop Land

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"I look at this town, and I don't like what I see."

Cop Land is a 1997 crime drama written and directed by James Mangold, starring Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, and Robert De Niro.

The story follows Freddy Heflin (Stallone), a New Jersey sheriff who is charged with keeping order in a tight-knit community of New York police officers. Such a neighborhood might be expected to handle its own business, and this is exactly how the residents see it. Thus, Heflin's authority is rarely taken seriously and he is often dismissed by the locals.

Matters around town are complicated when one of its members is involved in a questionable off-duty shooting and goes missing. It doesn't take long for Internal Affairs to come sniffing around in the form of Moe Tilden (De Niro), who thanks to jurisdiction must rely almost entirely on Heflin for his investigation to bear any fruit. Consequently, Heflin finds himself pulled in multiple directions, as more facts about the case—and about the town itself—begin rising to the surface.

This film contains examples of:

  • Artistic License – Geography: Garrison, New Jersey, is depicted as a relatively suburban-looking town that just so happens to be across the river from New York City. In truth, towns and localities immediately surrounding New York (a city of close to 9 million people, mind you) are heavily urbanized.
  • Asshole Victim: Joey Randone is an unpleasant, wife-beating thug, so it's easy not to feel too bad when Ray Donlan lets him fall to his death.
  • As You Know: Figgsy helpfully sums up Freddy's backstory by lecturing him about all the reasons why he should be jealous of the city cops.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Ray yelling "Oh my God! He jumped!" to fake Murray's suicide is... less than convincing. It's because he's distracting everyone from the fact that Murray's actually hiding in his car.
  • Batman Gambit: Moe Tilden deliberately insults and pisses Freddy off, expecting him to start an investigation in his own town, where Tilden has no jurisdiction; and that said investigation will stir up the dirty cops enough for them to make errors and give IA a new boost in their own case. He's right on every count.
  • Benevolent Boss: Freddy is patient and pleasant with his two deputies and doesn't resent them when they decide that Screw This, I'm Outta Here.
  • Broken Pedestal: Freddy, having a rose-tinted view of New York cops, idolizes Donlan and initially lets his men do what they want in his town. This changes as he comes to realize how dirty they really are.
  • Butt-Monkey: Freddy.
  • Changed My Mind, Kid: Figgsy returns at the end to save Freddy during the climactic shootout.
  • Conscience Makes You Go Back: Figgsy, on the highway driving away to start a new life, yells at someone (obviously his conscience) to shut up and leave him alone, and then angrily hits the brakes and drives back to Garrison, having resolved to go back and help Freddy.
  • Cowboy Cop: Murray ”Superboy” Babitch, Jack Rucker and Joey Randone. Eventually Freddy becomes this in the end to save the day.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: No one takes Freddy seriously as any kind of law enforcer, but have you seen him shoot, or in action?
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Method Man vs. two cops? He KICKS BOTH of the cops asses with ease. He first destroys and cuts up Randone’s partner, then manhandles Randone and throws him off the roof!
  • Danger Takes a Backseat: Freddy gets into his patrol car and is greeted by Frankie La Gonda, one of Ray’s right hand men in the backseat as he tries to intimidate Freddy into standing down with his investigation.
  • Death by Cameo: Subverted. Method Man makes a cameo just to kill Joey Randone.
  • Death Is Dramatic: Figgsy’s girlfriend Monica. She got caught during a fire bombing at his house, which he planned to collect the insurance so they could both leave town and start over but Figgsy didn’t mean for her to get caught in the fire and his tears clearly show his pain and regret for inadvertently getting her killed.
  • Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit: The dirty cops plant a gun in the black teenagers' car to confirm Murray's story that they were armed and shooting at him, but it's immediately foiled by an angry paramedic who tosses the gun away.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Freddy loves Liz (the girl he saved when he lost half of his hearing in the Backstory), but she married another man. Even after his death, she leaves town while being on somewhat poor terms with Freddy.
  • Dirty Cop: It doesn't take long to figure this out regarding most of the cast.
  • Disney Villain Death: Joey Randone gets this off camera.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Freddy.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The Sheriff's honesty is established in an early scene where he's in need of quarters and opens a parking meter's coin box to break his dollar, leaving the bill folded up inside when he's done.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Randone is a Dirty Cop and Domestic Abuser, but he's rattled by Ray's decision to sacrifice his nephew's life.
  • Extreme Doormat: Freddy once again. His admiration for the NYPD, Ray and the fact he looks the other way when they commit criminal acts just reeks of subservience. Freddy has hearing problems, but his aim with a pistol establishes that his vision is outstanding, so there's no doubt whatsoever that he saw and identified Babitch looking at him in the back of Ray's car. Not to mention he has no problem with the fact they have VERY little respect his authority.
  • Faking the Dead: After an attempt to plant fake evidence fails, Murray and the dirty cops fake the former's suicide by pretending he jumped off the bridge while hiding in the back of one of their cars.
  • Floating Head Syndrome
  • Gone Horribly Right: Figgsy burns down his own house in a way that makes it come off like an accidental electrical fire to get the insurance money for it which he could then use to leave with his girlfriend Monica and get a fresh new start elsewhere. Unfortunately, while the fire worked well enough that no one other than Freddy realized it was arson and Figgsy got the insurance money, Monica had come by earlier that evening (Figgsy had planned to do it that day because she’d be at a friend’s house) wanting to tell Figgsy something, and ended up getting caught in the fire and dying from the severe burns she sustained. Figgsy’s reaction when he sees her die and his state of grief afterwards makes it clear he deeply regrets what happened, not even being sure whether it was worth it.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Mob boss Toy Torillo is the man all of the dirty cops are working for, but he only appears in a couple of newspaper photos and isn't directly involved in the central intrigue surrounding Murray Babitch.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Gary Figgis near the end of the film, represented by literally slamming on his brakes as he's leaving town.
  • Idiot Ball: Yes, the shooting was unjustified and Murray was driving drunk and Donlan's group used corrupt means to cover up what really happened, but it was still a very dumb move for the motorist to brandish a steering wheel lock at Murray as if it was a shotgun after Murray showed him his badge, which should have clued him in that Murray could be armed.
  • Internal Affairs: Given the storyline, they're naturally involved.
  • Jerkass: Most of the Dirty Cops are this but Randone and Rucker take the cake as the both of them are MASSIVE douches especially Randone as he not only physically and verbally his wife but cheats on her with Ray’s wife Rose...
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Tilden may sound like an asshole when he grills Freddy about not really being a cop and not having much to do in patrolling the town, but he is right the locals have no respect for his authority, and due to the town being populated with cops, (who are backed by the mob) criminals just avoid it at all costs.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Tilden might be curt and somewhat abrasive but he’s dedicated to his job and wants to expose the charade that Garrison really is.
    • Figgis also qualifies for this as well as he is the only one who takes Freddy seriously and he eventually puts aside his own selfish reasons to help him bring down Ray.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: The NYPD officers vs. their own IAD and a New Jersey sheriff's department.
  • Karma Houdini: Randone's killer gets away with killing him.
  • Kick the Dog: Jack deafening Freddy. See Laser-Guided Karma below.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Ray's fellow Dirty Cop fires his gun next to Freddy's left ear to completely deafen him. When Freddy later mortally wounds Ray in the climatic shootout, his final condemning swears to Freddy go unheard as he points out that "I can't hear you, Ray".
  • Loophole Abuse: Tilden explains in his opening narration how transit cops were the only cops allowed to take up residence outside of New York (since the Transit Authority is partly run by New Jersey and Connecticut). Donlan's group worked overtime in subway stations to get themselves designated "auxiliary transit cops", which allowed them to set up shop in Garrison.
  • New Old West: Garrison, New Jersey, is a prime example; director James Mangold himself cited the film as a neo-western.
  • Police Are Useless: Every other cop who isn't Freddy Heflin is either corrupt, incompetent, or both.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Dirty Cops make some less than flattering remarks about black people at the scene of the initial shooting, which involves black teenagers. Jack in particular tries to plant evidence in their car, only for the nearby Hispanic paramedics to call him out on it.
  • Pop the Tires: Murray thought one of the teenagers he shot did this to him. He was wrong.
  • Redemption Earns Life: Figgsy's reward for helping Freddy deal with Ray and the other crooked cops and redeeming himself for being involved with them is that he survives the end of the film.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: A couple of cases as the film reaches its climax.
    • As Freddy starts ramping up his investigation, Cindy Betts requests a transfer back to her old job, as she's tired of dealing with the overwhelming corruption in Garrison and she doesn't want to have to deal with the trouble the NYPD will bring her if she assists Freddy.
    • When Freddy manages to capture Murray Babitch, Bill Geisler expresses a nervous desire to return home to his pregnant wife, rather than stand guard and potentially await the wrath of Ray and his subordinates.
    • Figgsy skips town after burning down his house and obtaining the insurance money, telling Freddy that he wants a clean start. He changes his mind by the end of the film.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: The initial shooting happens because a drunk-driving Murray thinks one of the victims shot out one of his tires, when in fact the victim was taunting him with a steering wheel lock and the tire was popped by a leftover shard of glass from the beer bottle that Murray crushed while leaving a parking lot. Jack is then caught trying to plant evidence of a gun in the car to try to vindicate him.
  • Steel Ear Drums: Averted when a firearm discharge is deliberately used to deafen Freddy, who’s already deaf in his right ear. However, it's only temporary, as the ending voice-over mentions.
  • Title Drop: Moe Tilden (De Niro) refers to the community in Freddy Heflin's (Stallone) jurisdiction as "Cop Land." He ends up dropping the tagline in one of his narrations as well.
  • Town with Dark Secrets: Garrison, New Jersey. Seemingly peaceful from the outside, but in reality is a fiefdom for corrupt cops.
  • Worst News Judgment Ever: Averted. The camera zooms out from the paper Heflin is reading to show the stories related to the incident completely fill two pages. He then closes the paper to reveal the front page is devoted to it as well. The exposure of an entire town packed with corrupt cops which is then involved in a massive gunfight would probably be pretty big local news.