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USA 2003
Directed by
Joe Carnahan
105 minutes
Rated R

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars


Synopsis: Undercover narcotics policeman Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) has been suspended for accidentally shooting a pregnant woman while pursuing a drug dealer. When another young undercover ‘narc’, Michael Calvess (Alan van Sprang) is found slain, Tellis reluctantly gets involved with the investigation on the promise of a reinstatement if he gets a conviction. Together with the slain officer’s partner, Henry Oak (Ray Liotta), they scour the sordid, seamy and brutal underworld of Detroit’s drug scene to attempt to unravel the truth.

The most impressive aspect of Narc is the magnificent performance by Ray Liotta. He brings to Oak a depth and complexity of character I’ve not seen in his acting before. He is admirably supported by Patric (best known for his TV role in Friends) who also depicts a multi-layered character struggling with inner demons.

The film is brutal and bloody with Oak being a cop prepared to use violence to get what he wants out of suspects or just to get them. The result for him is everything. From the film’s opening moments the brutality and grim reality of this harsh world is in your face, with a hand-held chase scene setting a gritty, realistic tone which rarely lets up for the duration. In fact more than half of the film was shot with a hand-held camera giving it a very raw, realistic look with a pervading grayness reflecting the bleakness of its world (photography is by DOP Alexander Nepomniaschy).

Interestingly, the main contrast and relief is provided by women and children. Oak reveals a past and a side to his character that we would never have suspected and it is played with surprising emotion by Liotta. Scenes of Tellis in the shower with his baby only serve to underscore the devastating divide between these characters’ working lives and private realms. A brief glimpse of a young brutalised girl is critical to the plot outcome.

Two of the many unsavory characters are drug dealers Beery (Busta Rhymes) and Steeds (Richard Chevolleau) who feature in a gruelling scene which highlights the paradox which underlies Oaks’ personality, and leads to the truth behind the investigation. Behind all the familiar stuff of street crime and the drug inderworld, Narc is ultimately a character-driven film of depth and complexity that is well-worth seeing.




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