Director James Mangold might be known more today for his big-budget fare like “Knight and Day” and his next film, “The Wolverine” with Hugh Jackman, but in 1997, he was just a few years out of film school and putting together his second feature film “Cop Land.” The modern day western touted an impressive cast of Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta and Sylvester Stallone, who packed 40 pounds to play the half-deaf Sheriff Freddy Heflin.
A new Blu-ray edition of “Cop Land” arrived in stores just this week, and Mangold spoke with MTV News to look back on his second film more than a decade later.
MTV News: What’s it like revisiting “Cop Land” after all these years?
James Mangold: Well, what’s great for me is that the film is very important to me. It is kind of my own piece of the past and a huge launching point for my own artistic career. It’s a dear story to me because it’s a fusion of a lot of things I love. It’s about an area I grew up in. I grew up about an hour north of New York City. It’s kind of a heightened version of the town I grew up in. Most of my friends in high school were sons of cops and firemen, white flight from New York City. I was a big fan of the western, as other movies I’ve made have shown. There was this idea in my head to try to make a fusion of a western and a modern cop film. I’m very proud of the result. It was a pretty heady experience for me as a young man with that cast.
When was the last time you actually saw the film?
It’s weird. The last time I did a class, about two years ago at Cal Art, I think I saw a good portion of it in that. By the time a director finishes a movie, if he’s as involved as I am in the cutting room, you watch that film three to four hundred times. It’s almost a part of your DNA at that point. I can describe shot-for-shot any one of my movies. I’m just kind of living and breathing them like they were a long-term girlfriend or a son or a daughter. They’re a big part of your life while they’re there.
What sticks out to you as you watch it?
For me, it’s personal. When I really start thinking about it and talking about it also was right after I made “3:10 to Yuma” because the movies are very related. I always loved the original “3:10 to Yuma,” and much of the plot and storyline of “3:10 to Yuma” is folded a modern urban landscape in “Cop Land.” I made a more direct “3:10 to Yuma” later in my life ten years later, and that occurs to me. I always remember being on the Palisades Parkway driving when I hit on the idea of a half-deaf sheriff who gets — spoiler alert — his ear blown out in the climax. The idea, because I’m always fascinated with silent movies, of where the picture goes in the climax and the kind of sensory deprivation you might be able to play with with an audience, doing a classic gun fight only where you can hardly hear anything was a really interesting landscape. I went back and looked at that sequence again when I did the class, and I was kind of going, “Damn, that’s kind of cool.”
The cast here is incredible. That had to be one of the coolest parts for you.
The other part that I have to admit strikes you is that as I’ve been making movies a while and you go, “It’s such a strange kind of comfort, having spent time with cinematic royalty.” I look at Stallone 15 years younger in that movie, and he put on all that weight, and Bob DeNiro and Ray Liotta and Harvey Keitel and Pete Berg, who is now a huge director in his own right. It was an incredible family of people to manage and the most disparate group of people to think about, including Method Man from Wu Tang Clan. Even Debbie Harry appears in it briefly. She had a bigger role that kind of ended up never making it completely onto the screen.
The Blu-ray edition of “Cop Land” is currently available.