NARC Review

Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Jason Patric. Ray Liotta, Krista Bridges, Chi McBride and Busta Rhymes
102 mins, Cert 18

Joe Carnahan’s brutal tale of a murder investigation in Detroit is a cop drama in the proud traditions of the French Connection or Serpico. Narc may not have a set piece car chase or big-budget shoot out but it has wonderful performances from the lead and supporting cast, a tight script and confident direction.

Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) is a former undercover narcotics officer suspended for following his spiral into addiction. 18 months later he’s rebuilt his life, is married to a loving wife and has a 10-month old son he dotes on. Against his better instincts and against his wife’s wishes Tellis returns to duty to solve the murder of narcotics detective Michael Calvess.

Calvess’ former partner Detective Henry Oak (Ray Liotta) joins Tellis and the two men set out to solve the seemingly clueless murder. It’s a tale told well, of corrupt cops that blur the line between investigation and criminal complicity. However Narc’s strength lies in the depth of the characters not the twists and turns of the plot. Liotta in particular is superb, aged 15 years and 30 pounds heavier than normal. He plays Oak as a dangerous, brutal yet strangely sympathetic cop that has lost his moral centre following the death of his wife.

Patric too provides a thoughtful and measured performance and director Carnahan must be congratulated for achieving such quality work from even the most minor of characters. The scenes between Tellis, his wife (Krista Bridges) and their baby son are beautiful and poignant – providing the audience with a clear contrast between the man and his work.

Narc is a brutal film with some very strong scenes of violence. Yet where many directors would linger on the blood and guts, Carnahan’s camera often shies away, giving the audience glimpses of brutality and letting one’s imagination do the work. The director only comes unstuck when using a 4-way split screen to show the partners walking the streets talking to potential witnesses. It’s a nice touch and a clear homage to movies of the 60s and 70s yet for this movie seems strangely out of place.

Narc in many ways resembles the sort of tough TV police drama we’ve enjoyed in recent years such as NYPD Blue and Homicide. But it’s the strong direction, great performances – Liotta especially, and intelligent dialogue that make this movie rise above the crowd. Narc is a film in the best traditions of The French Connection and it’s a compliment to the quality of the movie that it can be mentioned alongside such pieces of cinematic history and not seem out of place.