Review by Paul Stathakis | 2002

”Narc” is a dark drama. Its edges are rigid and its core rough. It deals with drugs, abuse, secrets, lies, and revolves around two cops with troubled pasts. They are both filled with anger and assigned to a mysterious drug case that’s about to take them overboard. That’s how Joe Carnahan’s film stands. It’s far from being silent, but still deadly and cold.

The movie opens with a tense chase. We’re quickly introduced to one of the main characters, Nick Tellis (Jason Patric). He is pursuing a suspect through the murky streets of Detroit, jumping fences, scampering as fast as he can (great hand-held camera work). He ends up in a park, where the chase comes to a halt with gunshots. But a pregnant woman is accidentally wounded and Tellis is put on probation for the mishap.

He spends his days at home with his wife and his newborn. He loves his family, but also enjoys his work. Tellis means well, but is too devoted to being a cop. He doesn’t spend enough time at home and his wife isn’t fond of that, in the least. When it comes to his work, Tellis gets emotionally involved and takes it quite personally.

18 months later, his captain (Chi McBride) asks to see him and makes him a straight offer. He informs Tellis that he can return to the duty only if he accepts a case and becomes partners with detective Henry Oak (Ray Liotta). Oak’s former partner and close friend, Mike Calvess, was murdered. He was apparently shot dead by drug dealers while undercover. The captain believes Tellis is just the right cop for the case since he has dealt with low-lifes and dope handlers before. But the problem is Oak. He is an unstable cop, relentless, driven by rage. All he cares about is finding his partner’s murderers and killing them. And so, the investigation begins.

I’m not too familiar with Joe Carnahan’s previous works, but I’m sure “Narc” is his most forceful piece yet. It can be compared to the classic cop film “The French Connection”, because the story is as gritty and the characters are as profound. I think it’s important to watch any film and know a great deal about the characters: who they are, where they’re coming from, and where they want to go. Carnahan obeys that principle. We know where these cops have been and what they’ve seen, their flaws and their mistakes. They are strong, respectable men, who become slightly weaker because of the guilt that encumbers them.

And the performances are just as dark and riveting. Liotta is a commanding actor, as seen in “Goodfellas” and “Copland.” Several times throughout Narc he stares down at suspects and shouts in their ears, for answers. This is Liotta in his most menacing state. Jason Patric who, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood, delivers a pure portrayal of an almost washed out Detroit cop scalping for deep answers. He is equally sharp. Great casting.

Narc isn’t a well-known film, but deserves a large audience. Its story sounds familiar and its dialogue seems rehashed, but the movie doesn’t aim at being different or unusual. Its intentions are to show us a different side of crime, in a different town, for different reasons, at different times. Along the way there are also plot twists galore, which makes things more exciting and questionable (especially with its ending).

At the beginning of the film, Tellis’ wife asks him why the department ordered him to look-over specific files. He answers, “Because they got a dead cop and dead-ends and they’re reaching.” That’s how it is in the cop world. There is a case and a detective must dig up the answers. But this profession is dangerous and never simple and Carnahan knows all about that.

 

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