“Because of the cast,” James Mangold told Vulture, “I think Miramax saw the potential in [‘Cop Land’] as high, but the scores were more the scores of an art film. It had gotten cast so aggressively that it now needed to perform in a way that justified its cast.”
“Cop Land” is really more of a character drama and modern Western, with Sylvester Stallone’s protagonist, Sheriff Freddy Heflin, being someone whose life went a different way than he hoped after he rescued a drowning woman and lost his hearing in one ear. Instead of joining the NYPD like he always dreamed, Freddy is left presiding over a town that dirty cops have set up as their own lawless outpost outside the purview of Internal Affairs. He looks up to Harvey Keitel’s veteran officer, Ray Donlan, but even in 1997, the movie didn’t shy away from showing how low Ray and his ilk were willing to stoop in order to save their own skins. It’s not exactly a crowd-pleasing moment when Ray’s nephew shoots two unarmed Black men and his cronies proceed to try and plant evidence on them.
It wasn’t just the Weinsteins who had unrealistic expectations for “Cop Land.” Mangold also noted how the casting “overscaled the movie” for audiences:
“One of the things that was difficult for me at the time was that I’d imagined the lead being someone you hadn’t heard of before, so that their extension into a hero would be less Hollywood. I was grateful for the opportunity, obviously, to work with some of these amazing people, and I got swept up in the excitement of working with them, as well. But the story itself was one of loss, sadness, hate, and aggrievement. I think it was a harder sell.”