Narc Review

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Every once in a while, there is a movie so incredibly badass that you wonder what kind of person you were before you saw it. It’s the kind of film that makes you grow a third gonad, the kind that makes you believe you can easily kick the ass of anyone sitting next to you, that makes you want to grab the nearest person by the collar and shout "Who do you work for?!?" In 2002, that movie is "Narc".

     Written and directed by sophomore filmmaker Joe Carnahan (the atrocious "Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane"), "Narc" is a balls-to-the-wall grit epic, a cop film that draws perfectly from its predecessors not only in the cop genre ("The French Connection") but also from the earlier cop film genre ("The Searchers"). Jason Patric, usually a very boring actor, is laceratingly haunting as Nick Tellis, an undercover narcotics officer who is overcoming a completely botched operation. With the stress wearing down on his family, Tellis makes a play for a desk job by taking the unsolved case of a cop killer. As he delves into the case with the single-minded goal of finally being able to settle into his job, he begins to see shocking similarities between himself and Michael Calvess, the victim who may have had a shadier past than others would have guessed.

     Soon, Tellis realizes he’s really in over his head when he is forced to team with Calvess’ former partner to solve the case. When we first see Henry Oak (Ray Liotta), he is slugging a handcuffed wife beater with a pantyhose stuffed with an eight ball. Clearly, he’s a very well-adjusted cop.

     Liotta, veteran of films as varied as "Heartbreakers" and "Goodfellas", is equally believable on both sides of the law, blurring the lines in what may be his best work ever. As the burly, physically imposing Oak, Liotta is a walking mean streak, a cop that makes his otherwise secure partners fear for their own lives. Without any pretense, Liotta is not playing a human, but instead a bulldog. Damned if after a beating he delivers to a witness at the film’s midpoint you don’t grab your crotch and do a package check. He’s that fearsome.

     As "Narc" works its way towards the end, it builds up massive amounts of emotional power as we see inside the lives of these two complex characters. Tellis begins to crumble under the weight of a case that stretches far beyond right and wrong, and his family follows suit, as his wife fears for the safety of her and their son. Oak, meanwhile, has his own demons to wrestle, as he struggles with what may or may not be the truth about his former partner. Both actors complement each other very well, the ponderous Patric and the snarling Liotta, and if anyone, surely the SAG Awards will notice.

     Motoring along at a 102 minute clip, "Narc" soon becomes much more complex than first imagined, and while the tension never lets up, one gets lost in the many possible fates of both Tellis, weary and looking for a way out, and Oak, uncontrollably angry and emotionally unstable. The interplay between the two actors is solid and believable, and Director Carnahan, massively improving from his first film, knows how to give a scene an uneasy serving of realism, dousing frames in dark blue hues and giving each shot a frayed-around-the-edges look, effectively channeling the mindsets of the two leads. As a true throwback to bare knuckle guy movies with something to say, "Narc" is a warm gun without a holster.

Review by: Gabe Toro


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