Director: Joe Carnahan
Staring: Jason Patric, Ray Liotta, Chi McBride, Lloyd Adams, Stacey Farber, Busta Rhymes, Krista Bridges, Alan Van Sprang
Plot: Eighteen months after his last botched operation, disgraced undercover narcotics officer Nick Tellis (Patric) is brought back in to the force to investigate the murder of another undercover narcotics officer Michael Calvess (Van Sprang), which has after several months still remains unsolved. As part of the investigation Tellis finds himself teamed up with the volatile senior Detective Henry Oaks (Liotta) the former partner of Calvess, as they try to find out the truth behind Calvess’s murder.
Review: When it comes to naming my favourite directors Joe Carnahan is definatly one of the more guilty pleasures on the list, having loved his visceral style of film making which combines eye popping action with whip smart dialogue, which unsurprisingly has in the past lead to comparisons being drawn between himself and the equally awesome Quentin Tarantino, which is no bad thing and no doubt the reason I’ ve been such a big fan of his work, since the first time I saw “Smokin’ Aces” (2006) with this love for his work extended to even the more commercial projects such as his big screen adaptation of “The A-Team” (2010) which he managed to drag out a long mooted development hell.
Building on his earlier short film “Gun Point”, while also drawing heavy inspiration from the documentary “The Thin Blue Line” (1978), Carnahan’s vision is almost like an homage to the likes of “Serpico” (1973) and “The French Connection” (1971) aswell as possibly unintentional echoes of “Training Day” (2001) as he strives for the same level of gritty rawness, shooting his vision of Detroit in washed out greys, while the sky remaining permanently overcast only further adds to the atmosphere.
Despite Carnahan having a reputation for big and loud film making, “Narc” is a very different and much grittier creature altogether, with Carnahan reeling back the big set pieces for smaller but non the less impactful sequences, the first of which he hits us with the moment the film starts, as syringes are filled followed by a disorientating handheld shot chase through a house estate, as a bystander is stabbed by a junkie as Narc officer Tellis chases down his charge ending in a playground shootout in which a heavily pregnant woman is caught in the crossfire, this is gritty side of Detroit that Carnahan has chosen as the canvas for his tale and serves as a suitable warning to the less informed movie goer, that things are only going to get a whole lot darker from this point on and this is one hell of an opener to proceedings, which doesn’t does grab the audience, but instead grabs them firmly by the shoulders, shaking them vigorously and demanding their attention.
Tellis is a character of heavy flaws, having battled drug addiction caused as the result of his undercover work and after his last case which essentially destroyed his career, he only wants to play the family man, rather than return to the force and it’s only after he’s given the promise of a desk job that he takes up the case. Oaks on the other hand is very much the picture of a loose cannon, introduced as he wraps a cue ball in a sock across the skull of a suspect, his unique take on police protocol echoing Tchéky Karyo’s psychotic detective Christini in Dobermann (1997). Still despite being polar opposites to each other they share a mutual respect from the start, while soon demonstrating similar approaches to their work, as their working relationship is far from being a case of good cop / bad cop but rather bad cop and really bad cop, with the ends truly justifying the means for the most part.
The strength of this film is truly with the powerhouse performances from the two leads, with Liotta just edging it over Patric, but then Liotta has always pulled out great performances when working with Carnahan as also seen in Smokin’ Aces (2006) the second of their collaborations, making it partnership I would love to see more from in the future, but it’s his performance here which proves to be his best in quite awhile, as he portrays Oaks as a member of the walking dead aged by the daily horrors and having long lost whatever faith his had in humanity along time ago. Liotta really took his character commitment seriously here and it shows, taking on extra weight for the role aswell as donning a fat suit and prosthetics to help age him further and add to the heavy build his character has, while in some scenes making him looking like a younger Brian Cox. Still despite the frequently violent nature of Oaks he still finds tenderness for his former partner’s family who he has taken on the responsibility of supporting, while seemingly providing his sole link to the rest of humanity. Still the scenes with just Liotta and Patric such as their initial coffee shop meeting fizzle with intensity and presence as they both bounce off each other, with the climax being truly worth the build up and frequent flashbacks that we go through on the journey to uncover the grim truth.
While having a highly visual style Carnahan, also has a great ear for dialogue (aswell as creative uses for the work fuck) and more than happy to drive his story through his dialogue rather than gratuitous action sequences, with the day to day investigations proving just as fascinating as the main case, as the banter between the two detectives adds real depth and character to the scene, including a memorable suspected bathtub suicide which later turns out to be real contender for the Darwin Awards, aswell a great insight into the detective mind of Tellis and his ability to piece together the most seemingly random of clues.
During the film’s production frequent financial issues cropped up, which also saw the production run out of money at one point, leading to Liotta and Patric working for free to keep the production running, while also having a record 21 producers, which meant that the film actually had more producers than it had speaking parts, with Tom Cruise also joining as an executive producer to help give the film a wider audience reach than it would have got normally, but despite this it still sadly remains a largely unseen film. Still this partnership with Cruise would also lead to brief working relationship between Carnahan and Cruise which ended after creative differences on “Mission Impossible 3”, which like the Coen Brothers vision for “Batman” can now only sadly be imagined.
While certainly the most subtle film on Canahan’s C.V, Narc still has many of his classic trademarks and by toning down the action to concentrate on the drama, it only serves to highlight his strengths as a director further, while proving a real treat for those of us who like our thriller with a tar black edge to them, while also worth watching for what could be the best performances from both Patric and Liotta in a long time.