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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