James Mangold’s Cop Land was probably ahead of its time. Released in 1997 to positive if not enthusiastic reviews, and a healthy if not massive box office haul, the movie was criticized by some at the time for its overly cynical depiction of the New York Police Department. For others, there was an ambivalence toward casting action star Sylvester Stallone in a serious role opposite Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel. More than 20 years later, however, one imagines Cop Land’s use of an action star in a dramatic light might be better received in this day and age—think Stallone’s Oscar nomination in Creed—and its depiction of a police force that protects their own when unarmed men are shot and killed would gain a more receptive audience.
Yet it was Cop Land’s struggle to meet contemporary expectations, and those of producer Harvey Weinstein, that most linger in Mangold’s mind today about the experience. Indeed, Cop Land was the first of two films Mangold made at Weinstein’s Miramax during its heyday as an independent tastemaker and Oscar darling in the 1990s and early 2000s—the other being Kate & Leopold (2001). Now looking back at Cop Land in an interview with Vulture, Mangold offers some unpleasant memories about Weinstein’s treatment of the post-production process, including when he pulled Cop Land from its Cannes premiere… and how critics were utilized in what Mangold perceives as a corrupt system.
“Miramax was a place that gave me an incredibly big shot, but it was also an incredibly thuggish place to work,” Mangold said. “It had a very unusual environment at that time. [It was] this place that seemed golden, in Hollywood’s eyes, and in the zeitgeist. You felt honored to be included, but you also felt like you were a cog in a system that was dark and corrupt. It seemed like everyone was reading their own clippings and feeling thrilled to be part of this club that was the hottest little studio in the world.”
Regarding how critics were seduced by this environment, Mangold said the following:
“At that time, one of the techniques that Bob and Harvey would use on you, as a filmmaker, was to talk to ‘experts’ — people who had produced cop movies 20 years before, who they were friends with in the city, or the political brass in New York — and use them as a kind of testimony about what was right or wrong about your picture. By the way, they also used critics. I mean, they had this great game going where they would show your film early to a critic. Then, the critic would offer their notes. They’d literally tell Harvey that they would be kinder to the film if you made certain changes. It was this incredibly incestuous world where they had figured out how to pull people whose support they needed into the process — and thereby gain their endorsement later, when the film emerged. It was a system. Like all systems, people are rewarded with the ego gratification of being part of a process. It never feels corrupt to any of the participants in the moment because they just feel like their great, creative minds are being accessed for advice. What’s better than that? I don’t necessarily think it was nefarious on the part of the critics, but nonetheless, they ended up playing a role in that ecosystem.
– James Mangold
The interview as a whole is an eye-opener in which Mangold looks back at his earliest major studio film and how difficult it was cutting his teeth on the movie—including when Harvey and Bob Weinstien came into his edit bay to dictate what changes needed to be made to the film based on notes from test screenings or elsewhere. You can again read the full exchange here.