Garrison New Jersey has almost no high level crime. Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) deals in menial offenses, i.e., misplaced garbage. His small roster of staffers don’t have much to protect. After all, it’s a suburban town loaded with cops, but their crimes are dealt with on their terms.
Garrison is rocked after a late night collision and shooting ends one of their own over a bridge in an apparent suicide. Planted evidence becomes exposed and suddenly bureaucrats are brought in along with internal affairs. Heflin believes he has a lock on the volume of his town. Outsiders don’t.
That becomes the central character arc, with Heflin determined to find his place amongst New York’s finest. For years he has been denied a spot amongst their ranks after going deaf in one ear, and unsure of himself, struggles to commit to the investigation. It’s a tight arc with an arguably predictable finish. Cop Land is billed as a suburban western, and it most certainly is. Ebbs and flows of the genre are precise in their execution, sans expensive period work.
Cop Land can be a puzzler, forging ahead with kinks to what initially appears to be a straight narrative. Bodies pile up and loose reasoning is provided for the deaths as the media swarms to this police-built community, structured on a shaky past. All of their efforts to contain the internal conflicts to their own begins shattering, while an expansive cast of recognizable faces or all-stars showcase high-end material.
Harvey Keitel works with his lackeys, including a a devilish Robert Patrick, to subdue information leaks to Heflin, often with a cruel edge. Keitel’s Ray Donlan is free of moral compass, and likes to consider himself above the system. His delivery of grand speeches concerning the politics of police work, the stress, and pressure are outstanding, and not only for their character content. It’s a performance that gives Keitel range.
Playing that against Heflin’s subdued, quiet demeanor necessitates an eventual showdown. It’s a conflict of personalities and character arcs that can only end in one way. Mixed in is a furious Ray Liotta, the median of the film’s ethical compass. His dead girlfriend, a victim of a house fire, levels his emotions and forces him into Heflin’s home. Liotta bides his time until redemption, a fierce finish with gallons of blood and villains dropping quicker than their victims.
Cop Land provides the needed closure, smart in that it sells audiences on this level headed, proud sheriff only to turn that around to provide the thrills capable of Stallone. The film can sell both sides of the actor, from the overcome underdog to the guns blazing action star. You get pieces of each, but done in a way that still completes a character that might not be Rocky or Rambo, but not that far from either.
Part of Lionsgate’s repackaged “Stallone Collector’s Set,” the disc seated inside the packaging is the same as the single film release in 2011. The problem with that situation lies in this grossly unprepared master that any amount of proper AVC encoding won’t save. Cop Land dies in HD, despite signs of life in the close-ups that push through the detail when asked.
Unfortunately, muddy and unimpressive mastering limits resolution. Even those close-ups won’t find themselves well resolved, fitted with easily avoidable softness were the resolution available. Minimizing these elements are dramatic signs of tampering, from aggressive noise reduction to minor edge enhancement, two trains of thought working against one another.
Medium shots will collapse from the filtering layer, giving off an unmistakable plastic facade that will immediately illicit groans from the perfectionist audience. Remaining grain is rendered poorly, the attempt to lessen it turned into a mass of swarming particles around the screen that are more elevated now than if the image was left alone. Halos on contrasted edges give away the sharpening, which is light, but no less egregious in its inclusion.
Colors are flat, loosening the piece’s visual style. Print damage shows the age, although minimal in its viewing impediment. More than anything, the stray dirt is more proof of the lack of care regarding this release. Cop Land isn’t the total disaster some releases can be – if that’s saying much – but it is a downer in the scheme of things given the film’s quality.
Audio shows similar concerns, especially with dialogue. Around 1:09:15, Ray Liotta’s chat goes from damaged to crisp in a matter of lines, and without any ADR as far as one can tell. Background elements impede on the chatter, washing them out sans proper balance. Cars passing by unseen have been given priority.
Even the score, as fantastic as it is thematically, is brushed over scenes when it peaks. That lessens the dramatic pull as balance is thrown aside without any benefit. There’s little to no spread in the score, seated firmly in the stereos with the slightest bleed into the surrounds. The mix feels dead.
Subwoofers have chances to work without any capitalization, from murky gunfire that lacks tightness to collisions that barely register as an event. Despite being from 1997, this isn’t age so much as it is a rocky, inconsistent effort that needs a modern touch of clarity that’s true to the source. Despite being DTS-HD, this one doesn’t feel uncompressed.
Commentary work comes from (then) first time feature director James Mangold, Sylvester Stallone, Robert Patrick, and producer Cathy Conrad. Making of a Suburban Western is an older featurette that clumsily makes it past 14-minutes. Storyboard comparisons dissect the final shoot-out, and two deleted scenes carry an optional commentary.
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