Cop Land - Rated - HOT HOT HOT

You've gotta see this film. The cast list is fabulous. De Niro, Keitel, Liotta and Stallone! Plus some great supporting players like Michael Rapaport, Peter Berg, the underused Janeane Garafolo and Annabella Sciorra, and an unrecognisable Cathy Moriarty.

Right from the first few minutes you know you're in great hands. Things move so fast you can barely keep up, and yet within a few moments you are completely immersed in another world - Cop Land. It is a strange and potent mix of suburbia and mayhem, where the kids can play in the streets but the community is run by the corrupt. And Harvey Keitel is one of the faces of this monstrous oligopoly. He is chilling.

The opening moments of Cop Land reminded me of the great director Howard Hawks. He was a master of setting up a parallel universe in a matter of moments, and it seems the director, James Mangold, has been able to do the same in Cop Land.

In fact, there quite are strong Hawksian (and Fordian) concerns in this film. Cop Land is really a thinly-disguised western, with Jersey as the wild frontier town, run by the bad guys (Keitel and his henchmen), and with a passive law-man (Stallone) in nominal charge, but really a puppet of the bad guys. Stallone's erstwhile sweetheart is now in the camp of the bad guys, and Stallone has a chance to win her back if he can make a stand against the bad guys. He will also regain his self-esteem, of course, if he can do so.

Along the way, Hawks' favourite issues of camaraderie, professionalism, heroism and redemption are explored. There's even a prisoner who has to be protected by the sheriff, alone, in his jail.

The script is clever and fast-paced; the plot is labyrinthine; the director has a fresh approach; the performances are excellent. Stallone gives us a wonderful portrait of a slow, plodding, compromised and not-too-intelligent man who takes his time to make his decision, and then is absolutely implacable. The extra weight he has put on for the role is not just cosmetic - you feel he has the extra gravity the role requires, and that - once he begins his journey - he is an unstoppable force.

One criticism I have is that Robert de Niro is a bit wasted in a smallish role, and his presence is so strong that it is almost distracting - putting the film a little off-balance. Perhaps the film makers didn't trust Stallone's character to carry the day alone. They needn't have worried.

The film's climax is bloody, but it is also original. I can't understand the critics who said it was conventional. I found it electrifying!