Published on July 26th, 2020 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Because You’ve Seen Goodfellas So Many Times
Tired of your favorite mob flick? Kim has another recommendation for a fresh riff on a similar vibe, complete with a dream-team of crime film players.
Here’s a scene we all know: it’s Sunday afternoon, you’re putting off chores, just relaxing and flipping through the channels when you catch Goodfellas on cable tv. There. Now your entire afternoon is fucked. No matter what else you have to procrastinate, it can wait. And that’s saying something, because with commercials and all, Goodfellas can run four hours. Meanwhile, you’re supposed to be painting the kitchen. The commercials are just a break for you to yell out to whomever, I’ll be up in a minute!
I still get sucked into Goodfellas every single time, the way I never get sick of my favourite pizza. But the question today is, what can we watch to get the same gratification elsewhere? Shut up, Casino (1995), I meant something not-so-obvious.
Everything about Goodfellas is cool. It looks cool to be a gangster. Right until shit goes completely off the rails, you’re actually cheering for these guys to pull another job, break another nose and ‘take care of’ another loudmouth schmuck. But what is Goodfellas really all about beneath the protective surface of exciting glamour? The story is basically how to hold it all together when you try to play by your own rules in a world you made up. It’s about a family organization, or “mafia” as the FBI like to call them, who try to operate independently in their own social circles, handling their own affairs and governing by their own code of ethics. At one point, Henry says that the services offered by Paulie are “like the police department for wise guys”. That sounds cool but, eventually, somebody from the outside always gets in and tears it asunder.
This assignment I’ve designed for myself to recommend alternative titles to classic favourites is getting increasingly difficult (see my Pulp Fiction article from last week for more details), and while this one is still a bit of a stretch, the movie I’m suggesting in place of Goodfellas is pretty damn great. Let’s start with the fact that it’s a Sylvester Stallone vehicle, and get that out of the way before you decide to stop reading.
Here’s my hot take on Sly: he’s been in over seventy movies, and three of them are really good. Cop Land (1997) is one of those movies, and he absolutely crushes the role, rising above all the talent around him. He put on some serious weight for the part and looks, well, not exactly fat, but like a French Bulldog. If one Stallone movie could paralyze your giggling (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, 1992) when asked if he’s a good actor, it would be this one.
In Cop Land, a similar situation to Goodfellas has been curated by NYPD officers in the town of Garrison, NJ just across the river. Every cop in this all-blue-town are ‘good guys’. Even the crooked ones. It’s because that is the way they see themselves. And just like the mob in Goodfellas, the cops in Cop Land only look after themselves and are often out of the reach of the traditional authorities.
The story arc in Goodfellas is expansive and epic, covering the time period where Henry Hill goes from bright-eyed shoe shine boy to Mobster of the Year to coked-out police informant. It’s not an original story like Cop Land, but it does have the unfair advantage of being crafted by a team of writers called actual history. The movie is based on the 1985 non-fiction, New York Time’s bestseller Wiseguy, by Nicholas Pileggi that was endorsed by Mario Puzo (The Godfather (1972), The Godfather II (1974).
Cop Land had a good director in James Mangold, who directed Walk the Line (2005), Logan (2017), Ford v Ferrari (2019) plus the upcoming, untitled Indiana Jones movie that should be out right after Harrison Ford turns eighty. But in 1997, Mangold had very little experience. Maybe if he had been more seasoned, the studio would have given him another 45 minutes of run time (to match Goodfellas) and doubled the budget. With that, he could have shown his story unfold from the 1970s to the present day, rather than just eluding to it.
Thankfully, Mangold got his cast – an insane list of talent to fuel the project. I don’t often have reason to do this, but the pedigree of actors that were assembled for Cop Land is astonishing. In addition to the aforementioned Stallone:
And for some reason, Debbie Harry from Blondie.
Plus ten more people you’ve seen in a million other movies.
You can see how a person could scratch the Goodfellas itch pretty good with a cast like that. And that alone might do it, but Cop Land also has story, dialogue, and atmosphere in skillful abundance. Similar to Goodfellas, you’ll see what happens when someone pushes–or gets pushed–too far. It’s what sealed the fate of a lot of gangsters, and it will be the same challenge for Freddy, Ray, Figgs and Murray ‘Superboy’ Babitch.
It’s slightly worth noting that Cop Land did a better financial return at the box office than Goodfellas. And why not? I’ve given you some pretty good reasons to give it a chance the next time you think of Goodfellas. You can hear the best use of a Bruce Springsteen song in a movie (ever), get stunned by a pork-pie Sly that acts the shit out of everyone around him (including DeNiro), and relish in an ending does not sputter, fade or disappoint. For all these reasons, I’ve probably watched Cop Land more times than Goodfellas in the last ten years.
You can watch Cop Land right now on Amazon Prime.