the darkness, a door bursts open into white. Two desperate
figures burst into a rundown Detroit park. In the lead, a
junkie who stops long enough to stab a passer-by for being
an obstacle. Behind him, not quite fast enough, an undercover
narcotics cop who sees his career melt away, but doesn't let
that get in the way of being anguished over the innocents
caught in the middle of this chase.
oh yes, if you manage to breathe during this sequence, you're
in the minority.
enough, writer/director Joe Carnahan's Narc grabs you
by the throat. It's an edgy piece that has an unexpected smartness
to it at times, and revels in its spareness. Unfortunately,
occasionally that spareness lets you see into the bones underneath,
and you realize that it's not quite the drama it wants you
to think it is. But who can pay attention to the man behind
the curtain when you've got an Oz like Ray Liotta?
isn't the main character in this movie, but he is the engine
that drives it along. Beefed up and worn down, his Henry Oak
hulks along on a crusade for justice that few can withstand.
In his path lies the reedy Nick Tellis (Jason Patric), the
ostensible title character.
suspected, Nick's career flushes away when that junkie, Elvin
Dowd (Dan Leis), does something horrible to an expectant mother.
The incident still resonates with Nick eighteen months later,
when the police department calls him away from being a stay-at-home
though they know Nick shouldn't be back on the force, the
department needs him and his drug connections to help solve
the murder of another narc, Michael Calvess (Alan Van Sprang).
Oak found the body, and as Calvess' partner is deemed too
close to be effective on the case. But even without that,
Oak's will to see justice done at any cost has made him politically
even as Captain Cheevers (Chi McBride) explains this to Nick,
our first glimpse of Oak has him beating an in-custody perp
with a billiard ball in a sock. To be fair, Oak has a bleeding
head wound at the time.
is no buddy cop flick. Both men have demons that keep humor
from rearing its head. Both men are utterly lost. Oak's wife
died years before, forcing him to forge a new sense of right
and wrong in the world, and Nick fell prey to the perhaps
too obvious fate of narco agents; we catch fleeting chiaruscuro
glimpses of him shooting up in memory. Whatever their personal
problems, they both want to see a cop killer brought to justice.
considers itself an important movie. Largely shot with a bleached
eye to match the washed-out Detroit setting, there's scarcely
a warm moment. Most of the actors appear tired and on edge,
in an environment cold enough to match their souls.
happy times with Nick's family stand out for their quiet sensitivity,
and thankfully, the film never beats you over the head with
the family theme. At least, not with a billiard ball in a
it all comes the feeling that we've seen this sort of thing
before. The script's twists and turns really don't come as
much of a surprise. A turning point in the case fairly early
on should actually negate almost everything that follows.
If anybody but Liotta were playing Oak, the hole would be
much more obvious. Instead, we have no choice but to buy that
this guy is going to go on.
a forceful actor, Liotta has gone criminally underused in
recent years. Narc should bring him back to the top.
Given a few obvious Oscar baiting moments, the actor manages
to keep your attention on the story and not him. It's a rare
trick that proves just how good he is. Having pulled a bit
of a DeNiro and bulked up for this role, he looks gone to
seed, but still seedy. Liotta personifies his character's
name, and every moment he's on screen is a moment that everybody
else fades away just a little bit more.
more subtle work, Patric manages to at least stay in the picture.
His arc has more weight, and leaves the audience with the
right kind of questions. Between the two actors, Narc
becomes a movie worth a second look.
real miscasting comes with Busta Rhymes late in the film.
He has a persona so outsized that even though he plays his
role believably, the fact that it's Busta Rhymes takes you
out of the moment.
has style and ideas, and though a lot of hype has surrounded
this film, this isn't the one that he's hit out of the park.
We can expect more from him, and he looks to be a filmmaker
an Oscar follower, then you have to check this out for Liotta.
Otherwise, this may be a film best left for a guys' night
on video, where its flaws will be completely overshadowed
by its coolness.
It Worth? $6