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Narc By Matt Singer
That stuff Iím picking out my teeth isnít whatís leftover from dinner; itís some of the grittiness from Narc that I canít seem to shake. This movie is dark, shaded in deep blues and greens so that the on-screen blood (of which there is a healthy amount) ends up looking almost black. Everybodyís beating the tar out of everybody, cops, drug dealers, hoods; if someone appears on screen, thereís a good chance theyíll have bled at least once before the movieís over. Numerous times, the black blood comes shooting out of people like a a freshly-tapped oil rig. Police Academy this ainít.
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A small movie given a larger-than-normal release, Narc was made on the cheap in Toronto and Detroit by director Joe Carnahan (Blood, Guts, Bullets, & Octane). The finished film was shown to the right people, cause eventually it got bought from original distributor Lions Gate Films by Paramount, who are releasing the film along with executive producer Tom Cruise (one of those ďright peopleĒ). William Friedkin, who made cop movie classic The French Connection called Narc ďthe best cop movie ever made.Ē Iím not sure about that (L.A. Confidential is no slouch), but itís a pretty intense thriller.
Jason Patric, whom I will never again mock for appearing in Speed 2: Cruise Control, plays Sgt. Nick Tellis, an undercover cop who opens the movie in a mad foot chase with a junkie brandishing needles of drugs against innocent bystanders. As Tellis chases the perp, the cameraman hoofs it to, in a shot that could best be described as Anti-Steadicam. If you get motion-sick really easy you might want to arrive a few minutes late to the movie.
Months later, Tellis is reassigned to take a case involving a murdered cop and his overly aggressive partner, Lt. Oak (Ray Liotta). Tellis does not want to go out in the field again after that drug bust fiasco, but he is offered a cushy job if he closes the stagnant case. Despite the protests of his wife (Krista Bridges), he is soon bracing suspects and digging through paperwork, searching for those answers that only really tortured, soulful cops seem to be able to find. Patric is really good in this role - though Liotta has been getting a lot of the press, itís really Patric who brings me into the world of Narc with tortured eyes and a lifetime of sadness in his voice.
Both lead cops are a little too good at their jobs, and the movieís most frequent theme is the conflict between wives and their cop husbands. Carnahan (who also wrote the film) seems convinced that effective cops and married ones do not mix - Oak tells an interesting story about losing his wife and his improved job performance. Carnahan gives the quieter scenes some elegant visuals; in one shot, Tellis sits at home, staring at a bulletin board of crime scene photos as his wife walks by, in some slinky underwear and completely out-of-focus; a beautiful representation of his state of mind. Thatís some smart direction.
You might need the plot explained to you at the end, but itís worth nothing that once you straighten all that stuff out, the finaleís numerous twists are completely believable within the confines of the structure Carnahan has established. Thereís even an ambiguous ending, which is satisfying in some aspects but not in others.
Narc is a movie that has all the basics right: a sturdy plot, terrific acting, juicy visuals, and twists like a pretzel. Carnahan, who has only directed one previous feature, has made a very solid movie with near perfect pacing; after the initial jolts, each scene feels just a little bit tenser than the last until a final showdown in a chop shop that will have you white knuckled and going ďIs that Busta Rhymes?Ē (Answer: yes!) Carnahan has a very promising future, and Liotta and Patric have reestablished themselves as actors who can add pathos and emotion to action movies. They kick ass because they care.