In this edition of The Forgotten, Matthew Pejkovic (Matt’s Movies Reviews) explains why Narc (Joe Carnahan, 2002 ) is a genre masterpiece. Thanks for sharing this film with us Matt.[Ed]
Whenever the discussion turns to best directorial debuts, the one go-to in my arsenal is Joe Carnahan’s 2002 crime thriller Narc. Yes, this is the same Joe Carnahan who failed to dazzle with Smokin’ Aces and The A-Team, had Liam Neeson face off against a pack of wolves in The Grey, and has more failed projects than accomplished ones throughout his career. Yet so strong is Narc, that any misstep in Carnahan’s career is immediately forgiven.
For many Smokin’ Aces is their first introduction to Carnahan’s work. Mine is this part gritty crime story, part buddy action movie, and all around genre masterpiece.
The reason I picked up the DVD of Narc from a Video Ezy bargain bin is simple: it starred Jason Patric.
Ever since I watched The Lost Boys back in my pre-teen youth, Patric remained a favourite of mine. Within him was a brooding darkness his father Jason Miller (he who played Father Karris in The Exorcist) also had, yet it was enveloped by rugged good looks that only a movie star could attain and which Patric had no intention of exploiting, choosing the independent movie route throughout his career, with the exception of infamous flop Speed 2: Cruise Control. (And yes, I did buy a ticket to see that crap at the cinemas.)
Patric stars in Narc as Nick Tellis, an undercover narcotics cop in the mean streets of Detroit who is on extended leave after an undercover operation gone very bad. When an investigation into the murder of a policeman hits a brick wall, Tellis is asked to re-join the force and help find the cop-killers. He agrees on the condition that he is joined on the investigation by driven, yet unstable detective Henry Oak (Ray Liotta) who has a personal stake in the case.
Patric and Liotta not only deliver career best performances but also have great chemistry as this pair of cops investigating a perplexing case that effects them both in different, yet immensely personal ways.
A comparison I always go to when describing this combination of movie cops is as if Frank Serpico teamed up with Popeye Doyle.
There are two vital reasons for this: First, both characters are driven cops who work on completely different moral framework. And second, evoking ‘70s cop classics such as Serpico and The French Connection says something about the character driven tone and gritty texture that Narc has in spades. Hell, even legendary director himself William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist) stated that Narc is “the greatest cop movie I’ve ever seen!”
Narc not only established Carnahan as a talented filmmaker, but an innovative one as well. Working on an ultra- low budget (a record 21 producers signed on to the film, including none other than Tom Cruise), the ever resourceful Carnahan created action sequences that made big budget genre films look tame by comparison. This is especially felt in the film’s opening scene (one of the best in recent history), an intense foot pursuit through a Detroit ghetto. Shot in the shaky cam style and edited to rapid-fire perfection, it’s a sequence that grabs you by the balls and does not let go until its tragic conclusion.
That the rest of Narc manages to hold up to the dizzying heights of its incredibly structured opening scene says a lot about the high quality of its performances, writing and direction.
That same year another gritty cop movie Training Day won the awards and accolades. Yet make no mistake: Narc is the better film, and remains an underrated gem that all should see.
By Matthew Pejkovic