Narc Movie Review

In what may be one of the best casting decisions of 2002, director Joe Carnahan and the makers of Narc chose Ray Liotta and Jason Patric -- two actors that can project off-kilter rage and searing intensity like few others -- for their dark, teeth-gritting cop drama. If they had selected some other "man of the moment" actors for this depressing character study, Narc may come off as just another brutal, bloody undercover story. Instead, the two leads, nearly perfect in their roles, bring a heart and reality that buoy the film, and at times, elevate it to a superior crime movie.

Patric, who's played the tortured undercover cop before in Rush (1991), is Nick Tellis, a brooding detective that Carnahan introduces by way of a throat-grabbing sequence: An all-out foot chase through the projects, photographed with a violently jarring, hand-held approach, and ending with a pregnant woman losing enormous amounts of blood after being shot in the leg. The scene, made harshly cold with an icy blue design, is effectively sickening, especially because the bullet that hits the innocent woman comes from Nick's gun.

The accident keeps Nick out of commission until the police force needs a talented undercover man to keep an eye on Lieutenant Henry Oak (Liotta, also credited as an executive producer), an esteemed veteran cop who may be responsible for his ex-partner's murder. Oak is a gritty, thorough police officer who knows how to play the game, and has a hot enough temper to take a pool cue to a perp's noggin.

For reasons that stay a little too far out of the audience's reach, Nick takes the gig and becomes Oak's new partner, both searching for the cop killer in question. There's no other way to say this: These are two characters who simply don't take any shit. In illustrating this, Patric and Liotta really flesh out these volcanic, layered roles while keeping the tone down. And although most of Carnahan's dialogue keeps to a bare realism, there are still opportunities for both actors to exercise chest-thumping bravado and hot-shot macho posturing... and they skillfully avoid it.

With his two stars, Carnahan (Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane, 1998) creates a fairly unconventional crime thriller, a movie that relies more on character development (or lack thereof, to keep up the mysterious vibe) than standard twisty investigation ploys. There are the typical formula signs -- the unhappy wife, the black superior with his hands tied -- but Carnahan tends to keep it fresh either through creative direction and spare dialogue, or by expanding a character in a way we didn't see coming.

As Nick and Henry take part in a meticulous game of search-and-destroy with possible suspects, Carnahan amps up the tension, getting us to a relentless conclusion full of bone-cracking violence and heartbreaking truth. While getting there, the director falters once in awhile -- most notably with a split-screen sequence (think Time Code) -- but even in the slip-ups, the effort is still apparent. Carnahan's energy combined with the standout performances of his stars make Narc a cut above your run-of-the-mill cop drama clones.

On disc, William Friedkin appears in a short bit about Narc's debt to The French Connection, and the usual smattering of production extras and commentary track round out the DVD.

Narcs face off.


Narc Rating

" Good "

Rating: R, 2002


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