“Being right is not a bulletproof vest Freddy!” – Figgs
James Mangold‘s 1997 film Copland comes from a different angle in the crime genre taking the good guy/bad guy plotline and flipping it on its ear by dealing with themes of corruption within the police force. In the town of Garrison, New Jersey, a community made up of cops has been established by the ‘tough as nails’ Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel) a veteran officer who has seen the evil and destruction of criminal life in New York City across the river where he and his crime fighting brethren work. Ray formed Garrison to be a place where his fellow police officers could raise their families in peace without fear. While Garrison is a quiet, safe haven on its surface, behind the scenes it keeps a secret. A neer do well rent-a-cop, Sheriff Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) watches over the town in a kind of daze. We can see through the way he moves and carries himself he is a loser. Freddy can’t be a real police officer because of his bad ear, which was the result of an accident years earlier in which he saved his high school crush Liz’s life after her car plunged into the river. Years later, Liz (Annabella Sciorra) is now married to Joey Randone (Peter Berg) a wiseass cop (one of Ray’s cronies) that treats her poorly.
In New York City, Garrison resident Murray “Superboy” Babitch (Michael Rapaport) a decorated young officer who gained his nickname from saving several children in a fire is celebrating with his friends at a bachelor party. Murray leaves the club and is making his way home when two black men crash into his car as he drives over the George Washington Bridge. Murray flashes his badge and yells for the men to pull over then sees the passenger pointing what he thinks to be a weapon at him. Murray slams the brakes and his tire blows out. In a fit of anger he takes out his gun and shoots at the car, accidentally killing both men after which he collides with them. When the EMTs and police arrive the crash/death scene is in turmoil. When it turns out the weapon Murray saw was just a steering wheel lock, Ray Donlan (who happens to be his uncle) has his pal Jackie (Robert Patrick) another cop, hide an Uzi in the car then “discover” it as the weapon Murray thinks he saw. Things go from bad to worse when an EMT (Paul Calderon) sees the gun being planted and he makes it known causing a big fight. During the confusion, Murray is said to have lost it and jumped off the bridge…
Enter Internal Affairs officer Moe Tilden (Robert DeNiro) who has had his own suspicions about Ray Donlan and the town of Garrison for awhile. Superboy’s death now has given him a reason to investigate. After giving some pictures to Freddy that show Ray talking with known criminal figures at Superboy’s funeral he’s asked to relay any information he might have on Ray and the other policemen. Ever the goodhearted, trusting man, Freddy relents and tries to ignore this accusation. His only buddy in town is Gary Figgis (Ray Liotta) who watches on and tries to help him make the right decisions to stay out of trouble but also has his own problems haunting him after his young girlfriend is killed in a mysterious fire at his home. As the heat gets tougher to endure, Freddy, who is thought of as a joke by Ray and the other officers must decide whether to keep ignoring the corruption and death surrounding him, or to finally find the courage to step forward and do what he knows must be done to set things right.
Sylvester Stallone has been mainly known for playing tough but relatively simple action heroes throughout his career and his turn in Copland finally proved that he is just as strong as a character actor. He’s definitely not playing Rambo here, Freddy Heflin is more like a sad, neglected turtle, slowly moving through his life with a broken heart and no real sense of purpose. It’s especially great to see him playing off the colorful cast who bring to mind other crime films such as Mean Streets and GoodFellas as well as The Sopranos TV series (look for an appearance by Edie Falco). They all come together to make the movie an enthralling crime tale that keeps you on the edge of your seat!