Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

How hard is hard-nosed? This is the film Training Day wanted to be. As hard as a cue ball in a sock.

When you unwrap a thriller, the bones are bare. When mysteries are revealed, they appear commonplace. It's all in the presentation - illusion, confusion, subterfuge and paranoia. What is truth but the corpses of lies?

Copy picture

Writer/director Joe Carnahan takes extraordinary risks. He does everything you hate about tough cop flicks. The violence is manic, the acting relentless, the camera fast and the edit creates thought snaps, like kaleidoscopic flashbacks, to infiltrate the workings of an obsessive mind. He even uses split screens at one point.

Is this Detroit? It doesn't matter. Lowlife locations exist everywhere. Nick (Jason Patric) is persuaded to come back onto the force after quitting 18 months previously, following a fatal drugs bust, in which a pregnant woman was shot. Having worked undercover before, he is asked to partner an older detective, Oak (Ray Liotta), and nail the killers of his friend, a narcotics agent, gunned down in the line of duty.

Oak is a man in rage. Anger spills out of him, as institutionalised brutality is superseded by post Reservoir Dogs torture techniques. Nick internalises his emotions ("If you haven't seen what I have seen, if you haven't done what I have done, you don't know where I'm coming from"), while Oak lets rip. Together, they make The Terminator look like a pussy.

It would be wrong to dismiss Narc as pretentiously shot, excessively violent and difficult to follow. The uncompromising nature of Carnahan's approach, with its full-on confrontational style, is contained by an absolute conviction and a refusal to cheat for sensation's sake. It is his honesty and that of his actors that gives the film its authenticity.

In the past Patric has been ridiculed for taking himself too seriously. He is Method through and through and here, at last, finds a role ideally suited to his particular brand of brooding intensity. However, the film belongs to Liotta, grey bearded, heavy, straining at the chains. He hasn't been as good as this since GoodFellas. It is a performance to relish, not simply for its naked aggression, but for the subtlety of his observation.

Reviewed on: 05 Feb 2003
Share this with others on...
Narc packshot
Jason Patric joins embittered detective Ray Liotta in tracking down the killer of a narcotics agent.
Amazon link

Director: Joe Carnahan

Writer: Joe Carnahan

Starring: Jason Patric, Ray Liotta, Krista Bridges, Chi McBride, Lloyd Adams, Dan Leis, Alan Van Sprang

Year: 2002

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Search database: