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Copland (1997)

cop land ray liotta
James Mangold wrote and directed this late nineties thriller, which was passed over by many because of the presence of Sylvester Stallone as the movie’s hero, small-town cop Freddy Heflin.

Freddie is an honest sheriff in a town where every other cop seems corrupt. His only real friend is Liotta’s Gary Figgis, a cop on the outskirts of the inner circle running the town. Figgis has a very intense, strong friendship with Freddy. Smart and tactical, he advises Freddy on how to deal with the corruption around him, but you can never feel you fully trust him.

Far from the violent psychopaths Liotta usually plays, Figgis is broken down, and emotionally fragile. Despite sloppy appearances, though, he is still sharp as a knife. A very layered performance, and a very interesting character.

Goodfellas (1990)

goodfellas ray liotta
Martin Scorsese’s 1990 biopic of gangster Henry Hill is a bona fide classic, with a fantastic cast to compliment his great direction. Star Robert De Niro was, inevitably, the headliner, but it is Liotta as Hill who holds the film together.

It’s the role that Liotta is best known for, and the part which made him a star. Liotta had the looks, the personality, and most importantly the attitude to bring Hill to the big screen. At the beginning of the film, he brings charm and energy as the young and brash wannabe gangster. He portrays the characters journey to financially successful criminal brilliantly, but really excels as Hill becomes sloppy and manic, his indulgences becoming his undoing.

A well-rounded performance that would, unfortunately, lead to typecasting throughout his career.

Narc (2002)

Narc ray liotta
When an undercover drugs cop is killed, Jason Patric’s disgraced cop Nick Tellis is convinced to come back on active duty to investigate. He has to work alongside renegade cop Henry Oak, played by Ray Liotta, who was a friend of the deceased and is under the scrutiny of Internal Affairs. Oak is notoriously sadistic, and in the course of the investigation Tellis gets drawn into the darker side of police enforcement.

This role, more than any other, shows many facets of Liotta as an actor. During a conversation about his marriage, he shows vulnerability and sadness, and then rage as he explains how he became such a physical, intense cop since the death of his wife.

Oak is a bear of a man, whose sheer presence instills fear in you. He is fully on the right side of the law, but is prone to bursts of anger, despite a generally calm demeanour during routine investigation. Whilst Liotta is mostly known for playing unhinged characters, here he portrays a fully developed character with a temper rather than just a two-dimensional psychopath.

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