It's pretty easy to dismiss Sylvester Stallone's career, as for the better part of two decades he's made some real crap. But just because his career has been riddled with really bad films does not mean he's a terrible actor--he's just an actor who makes bad decisions. Two recent DVD releases serve as reminders that despite garbage like Over the Top, Demolition Man, Rambo III, Judge Dredd, Oscar, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot and Cobra, Stallone has made a few good films.
One such anomaly is Nighthawks, a film made in 1981, after Stallone first made a real name for himself in Rocky and before he became a Hollywood icon in First Blood. Stallone--in his best Al Pacino-as-Serpico beard and hairstyle--stars as Deke DaSilva, a New York City cop who works undercover with his partner, Matt Fox (Billy Dee Williams), busting muggers and perverts in Central Park. Both men are reassigned to a special taskforce to catch a ruthless terrorist, known only as Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer), who has made it into the United States. Not exactly earth-shaking cinema, Nighthawks is still a decent film. Both Stallone and Hauer give solid performances, especially Stallone, but it is Williams who really shines, coming across as the most assured among the lead actors.
For 1997's Cop Land, Stallone shed his chiseled action-hero persona by putting on 30 pounds and acting like a schlump. Stallone stars as Freddy Heflin, the sheriff of a small town in New Jersey populated primarily by New York City cops. Freddy is little more than the town laughingstock, bowing to the whims of Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), the leader of the cadre of crooked cops. But when a controversial case leads an Internal Affairs cop (Robert De Niro) snooping around Freddy's town, he finds himself in way over his head.
Writer-director James Mangold crafts Cop Land as a modern-day western, with Stallone cast as a sort of sad-sack version of Gary Cooper in High Noon. Stallone, working with a solid ensemble cast that also includes Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick and Annabella Sciorra, gives not only the best performance in the film, but one of the best performances of his career.
Recently released as a special-edition DVD, this version of Cop Land includes additional scenes cut from the theatrical version. There is also an OK documentary featurette detailing the making of the film. But the real surprise treat is the audio commentary track, which includes Mangold, producer Cathy Konrad, co-star Patrick and Stallone. Stallone talks very frankly about the decisions he's made over the years, and how Cop Land represented his attempt to restore some integrity to his career.