But the real treasure of this film is Sylvester Stallone turning in the finest performance of his career (arguably) and the finest since the original Rocky (indisputable). If you have only seen Stallone in his pumped-up muscle fests of the 80's and early 90's, then you haven't seen the real Stallone. Copland allows Stallone to inhabit a character that completely unlike any other we have seen him do.
Freddie Heflin is the sheriff of a small town on the Jersey side of the Hudson River. He desperately wants to be NYPD but can't because he is deaf in one ear. The good news is, the entire town is populated with NYPD cops so the town has the lowest crime rate in the state. The bad news is someone got all those cops low-interest home loans through the mob in exchange for some favors. Freddie was given the position of sheriff because the locals think he's slow, stupid and will tow the line to keep his job. They are about to find out that they are wrong.
Stallone gained a lot of weight to become Freddie. He plays the role totally introverted, only speaking out toward the end when he is finally pushed in a corner. His clothes don't fit him. He walks awkwardly. He nods and smiles a lot. In short, Stallone melts into the character, leaving behind all the ego he has been accused of bringing to his parts. It's truly a revelation...and should have re-launched Stallone as a dramatic actor, possibly even a mini-DeNiro.
I'm not going to give away the whole story, but one of the best elements I have to mention here. The way Freddie lost is hearing is a tragic story. At the age of 18 he witnesses a car go off a bridge. He dives into the water to save the driver, a teenage girl. He rescues the girl, but loses his hearing in the process. The girl, whom he falls in love with, rejects him and marries another man, an NYPD cop. To this day, Freddie watches her from afar, always keeping an eye on her and hoping one day she'll come around to feel the same way for him as he does for her. It's a touching extra to a story of hard boiled men locked in a hardcore power struggle.
Lastly, I know a lot of people love Ray Liotta. At the time this came out I was not a fan. This, in my opinion, is Liotta's finest work. He utters one of the best quotes in cop movie history, "Being right isn't a bullet proof vest, Freddie."