A place where things make sense, where you can walk across the street without fear…” The aptly named Garrison, New Jersey, is a suburban safehold kept clean(ish) by dirty NYC cops nesting there – think porn ’taches, picket fences and inveterate racism.
Writer/director James Mangold based it on his birthplace, “a modern frontier town where white-flight couples fled from the mayhem of the city.” The problem for sad-sack sheriff Freddie Heflin (Sly Stallone), a big lug with a good heart and bad ear, is how to watch these watchmen, particularly when they harbour disgraced, on-the-lam officer Michael Rapaport.
What follows is an extremely polished ’70s-style policier combining the smalltown sentimentalism of Bruce Springsteen (who contributes two songs) with the macho schematics of Michael Mann. Only Mangold’s second film, he does a great job, but what really elevates the material is the phenomenal strongman array in his cast.
From Harvey Keitel’s corrupt kingpin to Robert De Niro’s sniffy IA officer, Ray Liotta’s mercurial coke-hound to Robert Patrick’s shellsuited goon, it is, as Mangold describes, “an incredible collection of masculine figures… who all bring a history to the table”. Mostly, that’s a history of violence, as one knock-your-socks-off moment involving Liotta, a dart and Patrick’s nostril attests.
But even just bumping beer guts in the local bar, these actors bring gravitas that sends an already impressive script skywards. Star of the show, astonishingly, is Stallone, who piled on 40 pounds for the role (by eating “80,000 pancakes”).
It’s thrilling casting – the disparity in credibility offscreen matching the hierarchical struggles on – and Stallone remains suitably grateful to his young director: “He forced me into dark corners in cobwebbed rooms that I haven’t entered – maybe ever,” he says during the fascinating Making Of.
Besides two deleted scenes that overstate the racial concerns, and storyboards of the final Wild West-style showdown, there’s a brilliantly self-effacing commentary with Stallone, Mangold, Patrick and producer Cathy Konrad.
Apparently when he first read the script, Sly thought, “They should get a good actor, but it might trickle down to me.” Looking back, in between jokes about D-Tox and diva-ish behaviour from De Niro and Keitel, he decides, “I don’t think I coulda done this any better.” He’s right.