Narc (2002)

It seems like every cop in Detroit is dirty and never does a nice thing for anybody. Only in the movies, though, and I don’t know how much fact there is behind that.

The plot revolves around the efforts of two police detectives (Jason Patric and Ray Liotta) as they search for the murderer of an undercover police officer. As they proceed in the investigation they engage in suspect tactics and give viewers a glimpse into the seedy side of undercover work.

Right before I even got into watching this movie, I was thinking that it was going to be another fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled, cop-action movie but instead, I got something totally different, and probably a hell of a lot more gritty. Actually, “gritty” is probably the best word to describe this flick as I could literally taste the blood, sweat, and dirt that seemed to fall right-through the camera and into my face. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad and literal, but you get what I mean: it’s pretty freakin’ gritty!

I have to give a lot of props to writer/director Joe Carnahan, who takes a pretty normal cop-story of two detectives on opposite ends of the spectrum, that are looking for a killer, and giving it a dark and eerie style that kept me involved with this film even when it seemed to be a tad too predictable. Carnahan makes this film look just as depressing as these two characters are, and it shows us just what sort of terrible side-effects come along with being an undercover cop. Yeah, it’s another one of those hand-held camera style movies, but it’s not as annoying this time around since nobody really saw a Paul Greengrass film around the time this came-out so the hand-held camera was still young, innocent, and normal, just like my grade-school days. Oh dear, how they went to waste after. Definitely not as fun and easy as other movies make it out to be, but Carnahan shows us differently, but that is also another separate-reason as to why I liked this movie so much.

The main mystery surrounding this film was pretty good, but what really got me involved with this story was Carnahan’s detailed-attention to its characters, that not only made me feel something for them, but also made me realize just why they were doing all of this undercover ish to begin with. You get a feel for how these guys go through their jobs on a daily basis and it doesn’t seem like that much of a walk in the park at all. These guys pretty much have to deal with terrible shit all of the time at-work, only to come home, some more terrible shit with their wives/families hootin’ and hollerin’ at them for choosing a job like this. Maybe the film doesn’t go that far in showing us how these guys live but I like what I saw with these characters and it kept me riveted through every twist and turn this story took. The attention to characters made more of an emotional-bump for me, just when things started to seem to get very, very sour for these jokers in the end.

What I was bummed out by here was that the story does get ultimately formulaic by the end and I could kind of tell just where this story was going, mainly because of the type of cliches I’m used to seeing with all of these cop-dramas. There’s a certain point in this flick where you realize that something is a little not all that right with one character, and it starts to turn into something we have all seen before. The same old, tired “bad-cop, good-cop” element starts to get in the way and take over the flick which was a real, real shame for me as I felt like I really was getting to see a new, interesting, and fresh-take on the whole cop-drama. Instead, I was only saddened by the fact that Carnahan starts to lose himself and give us what we didn’t want in the first-place: predictability.

Let me also not forget to mention that the ending does feel a tad rushed. There’s a whole bunch of twists with the ending and how everything with this mystery actually did happen, but that’s not what really bothered me. What really bothered me was how they just dove right into it as soon as the tension was really picking up and it made me feel like Carnahan was a bit too scared of over-staying, his welcome which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the first place, but he almost seems like he dropped the ball a bit too early. Then again though, this guy has some real talent for taking a generic story like this and give it an unpredictable feel so I can’t hit him too much.

Having said all of that junkola, the real reason this story works so well is because of the performances given by everybody here, especially the two main stars. Jason Patric is, in my opinion, a very underrated actor but with his performance here as Nick Tellis, he shows that he has the dramatic range to be a great leading man. He’s trying to get away from all of these problems he’s been having as an undercover cop, trying to seek some peace at home with his wife, and is just trying to do the right thing but the guy keeps on finding himself in once again, terribly shitty situations. Patric displays this sadness very well here and is character that’s easy to trust even though he may not have all of the right answers.

I was actually very impressed with Ray Liotta as Lieutenant Henry Oak, a guy who I would not want to be stuck in the room alone with at all. This guy is one hard-as-nails son of a bitch that’s a force to be reckoned with throughout this whole flick but he also shows a lot of heart too, that made me feel something for this lean and mean character. There’s a little monologue that Liotta gives that makes you realize that this character has a lot more going on then you would first imagine, and it’s a very good scene that shows Liotta isn’t so bad when it comes to drama. Shame that this guy doesn’t get better roles nowadays, but maybe he’s done that to himself. Who knows.

Consensus: Even though it’s ultimately a pretty formulaic cop story, writer/director Joe Carnahan gives Narc a style that is gritty, mean, and grungy, and the performances from Patric and Liotta make this more than just another another, run-of-the-mill story about two messed up cops.



  1. Nice one Dan. This has got three Best — award wins for me: Best post-Goodfellas performance from Ray Liotta; Best Movie Moustache for Mr Jason Patric; and Best DVD commentary. Seriously, check it out. Carnahan is one hell of a storyteller, and this is his best stuff.

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