“Narc” was written and directed by Joe Carnahan, best known for his independent film “Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane.” The film stars Jason Patric and Ray Liotta as a pair of cops investigating the murder of a fellow police officer. Jason Patric is Nick Tellis, a suspended undercover cop who’s lured back by the chance for redemption.
The film opens with a riveting scene as a drug bust goes terribly wrong. Shot in black and white a jittery hand held camera follows the action as Nick chases down his suspect, relentlessly pursuing him through a sleazy tenement and across a vacant courtyard until they spill out on to a playground, where an innocent bystander is shot. When Nick is offered the chance to help solve the murder of a fellow cop he reluctantly takes it.
Like the recent “8 Mile” the film is set among the crumbling ruins of Detroit. It makes for a gritty stage on which the action slowly unfolds. Fenced-in lots filled with patchwork mounds of snow and garbage sit adjacent to drafty housing complexes. Aging Detroit sedans covered with corrosive salt stains fill the road. The cold, gray skies and bleak urban landscape set the mood and serve the film well.
The cop on the edge is familiar terrain for Mr. Patric who had a similar role in “Rush.” This time though his character is less macho, more humane. With a wife and a baby at home he feels torn between responsibility and duty. A noted bad shot he gets by more on wits and cunning than brute force. To solve the case though he must work with his polar opposite, Henry Oak, the dead cop’s former partner, played by Ray Liotta.
Oak is different from Tellis in nearly every way. Bull headed and volatile he never hesitates to draw his gun or beat a suspect. By putting on weight and adding facial hair Mr. Liotta transformed himself physically for the role. True to his name he is literally a towering, immovable oak.
For the first two-thirds of the movie the tension between the two characters is great. They slowly wind their way through the case, tracking down suspects and following up on leads, each taking their own approach while warily eyeing the other. Mr. Carnahan has done a good job of fleshing out two fascinating characters. Unfortunately it’s the third and final act where his storytelling goes off the rails.
Relying heavily on flashback and exposition “Narc” bogs down near the end. Which is really unfortunate and probably unnecessary. Despite a complex storyline there are ways to successfully advance the plot without having to stop the forward progress and explain how the pieces all fit together. “Chinatown” is probably the finest example while “The Two Towers” is a more recent and perhaps less vaunted one. The film has some great performances but ultimately it misses the mark. I’m Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
© 2003 - Erik Petersen - Air Date: 1/15/03
USA - 2002