WHAT I LIKED: James Mangold's 'Cop Land,' is a crime movie with a great narrative concept - the sheriff in a small NJ town full of corrupt, racist NYC cops starts to turn on the people he serves after an investigator comes and puts the pressure on. It's ultimately a story of someone opening their eyes to the injustice that makes their life easy and taking the brave step to risk everything and take it down, and that's inherently engaging especially when said person is played by the ever-stoic and simple Sylvester Stallone.
Beyond its compelling story though, the film works because of the way it unravels its plot; taking time to develop individual moments and revealing their significance later on. For example, the opening scene is a tense confrontation on the George Washington bridge which broadcasts police corruption, but the fallout of what happens and the mystery surrounding it isn't clear whilst it's happening. Similarly, the chummy yet submissive relationship that Stallone's character has with the cops is established long before it becomes clear that he's in any position to expose them, and that creates a structure that ultimately relieves much of the film of the predictability of many other pictures. In many ways, that - beyond the New York setting and cast - puts in mind Scorsese's breed of naturalism, as the reveals - instead of being shown - are often teased or made inadvertantly through simple conversations that we witness. In other words, it feels as though we've just walked into and inhabited a significant section of these people's lives without anything being staged, and that means we get to really understand the characters in a way that we might not otherwise.
On the other hand though, Mangold equally adds a little more flare to proceedings with lots of close-ups and zoom-ins which capture characters' emotions and emphasise tension and excitement far more than someone like Scorsese usually would. That's particularly the case in the sequences in which everything comes to a head and we get a glimpse of some "action," and that all makes for some highly engaging and often very successfully edge-of-your-seat stuff.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: The biggest problem with the film is that its script takes a huge amount of unnecessary time watching its side characters at the expense of its main story. Almost every corrupt cop is observed in their own situations and are given development of their own, and that can make things difficult to follow and take you out of the story.
VERDICT: Whilst it lacks the of an experienced writer, James Mangold's 'Cop Land,' is a highly engaging Scorsese-esque crime thriller with a compelling story and great performances.