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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Narc

Starring: Jason Patric, Ray Liotta
Director: Joe Carnahan
Rated: R
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: January 2003
Genres: Action, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Busta Rhymes, Chi McBride, Richard Chevolleau, Anne Openshaw, John Ortiz

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

I had a friend who, unlike the rest of our gang, did not become a teacher or an accountant or a dentist or doctor. He had his heart set on wearing the blue for New York's finest. When he joined the force, his fianc‚ left him, as she had threatened to do. Police work is stressful not only for the officers but for their families, forcing spouses to remain home alone or with their children during much of the night hours and who worry each day whether their husbands or wives would even survive to the next day. Director Joe Carnahan's "Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane" is, like his present work, an unconventional, low-budget crime story, but this time Carnahan enjoys a stellar cast headed by Jason Patric as Nick Tellis, an undercover narcotics officer, and Ray Liotta (who gained thirty pounds for the role to exude both physical and emotional bulk), who performs in the role of Tellis's partner, Henry Oak. Just minutes into the movie, you'll probably think, "Where have I seen Jason Patric before?" Patric had appeared in Lili Fini Zanuck's similar opus, "Rush," about a young woman recruited to be an undercover narc in the 1970s joining a man who's too strung out to be effective.

While "Narc' is a character study even more than it is a crime thriller peppered with violence, Moscow-born photographer Alex Nepomniaschy ("The End of Innocence") captures the tension of police work early on with a hand-held camera, using a blue filter to capture Tellis chasing a suspected drug dealer, a stray bullet from his gun hitting a pregnant woman. Suspended from the Detroit force for eighteen months, he is given a chance by his boss (Chi McBride) to have the event stricken from the record if he would bring in the person or persons who murdered an undercover narc, presumably because the latter had been found out by the pushers. He is teamed up with Henry Oak, who was the partner of the murdered cop and who is hell-bent on getting revenge.

"Narc" is not only a powerful crime story but an effective psychological thriller that includes a "Rashomon" theme. Just how did the unfortunate detective die? Was he shot by the dealers when found out? That appears to be the obvious answer, but things are seldom what they seem. Carnahan treats us to a bevy of Aqua-Velva blue flashbacks, each suggesting the circumstances that surrounded the cop's death, revealing the unusual truth at the movie's conclusion. In addition, we eavesdrop on Tellis's family life, learning that his wife has become a shrew because Tellis is around when he should be home helping her to bathe and take care of their small child and is disgusted that her man chose to re-enter the Detroit force and take on the dangerous job that led to his suspension. For his part, we find out that Oak has his own reasons for obsessing, his relationship with the dead man's widow an indication of his desire for closure. The movie was inspired by a documentary, "The Thin Blue Line," about the actual slaying of a Dallas police officer in 1976, then made into a short film by Carnahan called "Gun Point."

While Liotta is a powerhouse, chewing up the scenery with his emotionalism, Patric's more intellectual performance is the key to the film's success. The thirty-six year old actor, a grandson of Jackie Gleason, creates a complex character, buffeted at home by his nagging wife and on the job by his high-strung partner, yet he is able to convey his love for the only job for which he feels suited. Though he performed as ably in the similar "Rush" as he does in the current drama, he has shown depth in quite different roles, particularly as a self-styled stud in Neil LaBute's drama of dysfunctional couples, "Your Friends and Neighbors." The team of Liotta and Patric coupled with Carnahan's sharp script make "Narc" a superior cop movie.

Copyright © 2002 Harvey Karten

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