by Ed Owens
Let's be honest...one's tolerance for police procedurals
can only be pushed so far, regardless of how well they're made. While
the multiplexes have pushed the genre in the direction of scenery-chewing
serial killers and neo-noir posturing, television has merely pushed
the genre, forcing it down our throats with multiple flavors of Law
& Order and CSI, with a generous smattering of other
shows to fill in the remaining timeslots. The resulting glut has threatened
to turn the cop film into one giant cliché, destroying what little
credibility remained after a similar explosion in the 70's.
completely cohesive narrative whole than an expertly crafted series
of well-executed setpieces strung together by an otherwise traditional
storyline. Tellis (Jason Patric), an undercover narcotics officer with
police department, is fired after the accidental death
of a pregnant woman during a playground
shootout. His shot at redemption comes in the form of Henry Oaks (Ray
Liotta), an aggressive detective whose partner was gunned down in a
local park while working undercover. The two reluctantly pair up and
begin scouring Detroit's criminal underground for clues.
of the film's biggest strengths is its ability to make recycled plot
points and clichéd stylistics seem fresh and engaging again.
Much of the credit has to go to sophmore director Joe Carnahan, whose
familiarity with the genre and its tics allows him the freedom to play,
to boil the conventions down to their essence, and find plenty of creative
opportunities in the process. A split-screen montage of the ongoing
investigation manages to develop tension even through the drudgery of
numerous interrogations and contacts, marrying style and substance with
a balance seldom achieved in today's post-Tarantino culture. (Credit
must also go to Alex Nepomniaschy's wonderfully atmospheric camera-work).
Many of the scenes are still as vivid as they were sitting in the theater--the
film's first is easily one of the most bravura openers all year, and
a garage interrogation later in the film ratchets up the tension to
almost unbearable levels despite its near twenty minute length.
course, none of it works without solid performances, and Narc
has not one, but two. Patric's brooding silence and Liotta's explosive
rage play perfectly off each other, giving hard-edged life to characters
that otherwise skirt dangerously close to stereotype. Liotta in particular
shows a surprising range, moving seemingly effortlessly between sympathy
and menace, control and hysteria, often within the same scene. The rest
of the cast is also strong (including an impressive cameo from Busta
Rhymes), but the film belongs in every way to its two leads.
It should be said that Narc is not a happy film,
nor, in some cases, a pleasant experience. Whether or not you like it
will largely depend on your tolerance for its relentlessly bleak outlook
and spontaneous brutality (some of which, like the work of the aforementioned
Tarantino, is darkly comic and savagely funny). Regardless, it is ultimately
a rewarding film, a superb genre picture that makes everything old seem
©2003 Ed Owens