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Narc (R)
Official Site
Director: Joe Carnahan
Producers: Diane Nabatoff, Ray Liotta, Michelle Grace, Julius R. Nasso
Written by: Joe Carnahan
Cast: Jason Patric, Ray Liotta, Busta Rhymes, Chi McBride

Rating: out of 5

Narc is an intense, powerful film that holds your attention from the first moments right up until the last frame. The film’s two leads give powerhouse performances that go deep into feelings of pain, loss, and violence. It also introduces to the world a young writer/director named Joe Carnahan who has managed to do something I thought was impossible: inject some life into the cop genre.

Detective Nick Tellis (Patric) used to be an undercover narcotics agent. He was removed from duty after inadvertently hitting a woman with a stray bullet while firing on a suspect. After months living on his pension he is given an opportunity to have a full reinstatement to his former position. All he has to do is assist the department with the investigation of the murder of another cop, Michael Calvess. Tellis looks through the files, and envisions the horrific final moments of Calvess.

Meanwhile, at his home Tellis’s wife is struggling with him going back to work. Having gone through life with a husband doing deep undercover work, she doesn’t want to revisit that particular hell. Tellis tries to tell her that it’s just some work; that he’s just helping with this case and not going back undercover.

While going through the files Tellis notices that the lead investigator on most of the early work was a Detective Henry Oak (Liotta). He tells the police chief (McBride) that the best chance they have is for Oak to be on the case, but the chief will only let the violence-prone Oak back onto the case if Tellis agrees to go on active duty, as Oak’s partner. Even though he knows his wife is against it, Tellis agrees. He desperately wants to help catch whoever killed this police officer, husband, and father.

So Tellis meets Oak and learns that Oak is a man who wants justice, whether or not he has to break the law to get it. Oak has little to live for, and therefore little to be scared of, so nothing holds him back from throwing everything he has into his job. Tellis and Oak then go about unraveling the twisted events that led up to the day of Calvess’s murder.

The interesting story about Narc is that it was made on a very low budget, very quickly, and premiered at the Sundance film festival where no one wanted to buy it for distribution. It wasn’t until Tom Cruise—yes that Tom Cruise—saw it that things started to go well for Narc. Cruise loved it and threw his support behind the film as an executive producer. With his name attached to Narc, Paramount decided to release the film. After you see Narc you understand why a studio would be wary of it. The feel-good film of the year this is not. Narc is very much in the style of the ’70s films like The French Connection and Detective Henry Oak is an anti-hero in the most literal sense. Liotta plays Oak with so much passion and intensity that I identified with him even in his most monstrous moments.

Narc is Patric’s first major film in several years. It makes you remember how good he can be, even if he did choose to be in the unfortunate Speed 2. The anguish in his eyes in the film’s final moments could hit someone in the back row.

Joe Carnahan has crafted the first inventive, fresh cop movie in many years. Not only is it one of the best films of 2002, it’s one of the best gritty cop movies of all time. In a season where movies like National Security and Kangaroo Jack rule the screens, thank God for this intense, adult film alternative.

—Jesse Trussell


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