Narc (2002) / Thriller-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for strong brutal violence, drug content and pervasive language
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Jason Patric, Ray Liotta, Chi McBride, Busta Rhymes, Anne Openshaw
Director: Joe Carnahan
Screenplay: Joe Carnahan

Review published January 12, 2003

When Joe Carnahan came onto the scene with his very low budget first film, BLOOD GUTS BULLETS AND OCTANE, I was one of the few who reviewed it that refused to give the man his props.  Apparently, Carnahan himself wasn't impressed because he sent me a personal e-mail, succinctly stating, "review my nutsack."  I actually was going to add a little tidbit to the review with the addendum, "I can't review your genitalia, Joe.  I only review full-length features." 

I didn't bother, though.  I could claim to have taken the high road, but in reality, after re-reading my review, I have to admit I was trashing that film about as bad as I could.  He deserved to get a shot in response, I figure. 

It's been a silent four years since, but Carnahan's latest feature, NARC, sees a much more confident writer-director at the helm.  This is a very impressive piece of work on almost every level, with terrific writing, spot-on direction, and powerhouse performances by very good actors who haven't had roles this juicy in years.  Joe, you've earned my respect as a filmmaker, if not as a letter writer.

Jason Patric breathes inspiration into his role as Nick Tellis, who is given a second chance at being a Detroit cop after being kicked off the force for an accidental slaying of a pregnant woman during a careless arrest attempt.  He wants a nice desk job so that he can take care of his wife and newborn child, but before he can do that he has one assignment.  A local undercover narcotics officer has been killed, and he must work with Henry Oak, a "cop-on-the-edge" who doesn't mind breaking the rules if it means getting a conviction.  Nick and Henry must traverse Detroit's seedy underbelly, uncovering rocks in hopes of finding the killers, but the stress of Nick's long absences causes strife at home.

Some might see allusions to the recent film, TRAINING DAY, but it's a bit of an unfair comparison.  TRAINING DAY is about police corruption and abuse of power, a wholly different theme than the much less preachy NARC, with recurring instances of rushes to judgment and need for better communication.  In that way, NARC is a smaller film in scope, but doesn't pretend to be anything more than it is, and always remains true to its form.

Although Joe Carnahan clearly impresses with terrific dialogue and icy cold, but still stylish direction, its in his selection of actors where he is able to reap the most rewards.  Ray Liotta and Jason Patric were considered actors to watch when they first appeared in the Eighties because of their abilities to balance intensity with vulnerability. Sadly, these abilities have been forgotten by many casting films, probably due to the sometimes poor choices both actors have made in roles which gave them more exposure, but underutilized their strengths as actors.  If anything, NARC reminds us what terrific actors both men are, who put everything they have into their roles, and Liotta in particular delivering a performance that is worthy of Oscar talk.  Everyone down the line is terrific, with good casting among the female supporting characters and especially the children.  Even Busta Rhymes delivers in his small but significant supporting role.

NARC is a dark film, and not particularly fast moving, so this really isn't recommended for action-lovers.  This is a character study film, looking into the psyches of two misguided cops, one looking to set things right regardless of procedure, while the other looking for redemption for past misdeeds.  This is a film for those who like a dirt-under-the-fingernails cop film, full of raw characterizations and gutsy performances.  It's a graphically violent flick, perhaps too dark and distasteful for some, yet if you don't mind a bitter pill, NARC has is as potent as they come.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo