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2002 - R - 102 Mins.
Director: Joe Carnahan
Producer: Ray Liotta, Diane Nabatoff, Julius R. Nasson
Written By: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Jason Patric, Ray Liotta, Busta Rhymes, Chi McBride
Review by: David Trier
Most buddy cop films have a familiar character dynamic. Usually there's a tough cop that breaks all the rules and everyone respects him. He's partnered up with a wimpy by-the-book guy who often discovers he has to break the rules to uncover how dirty a cop his partner really is. Narc's biggest accomplishment is breaking this mold, pairing two tough, three-dimensional cop characters who aren't afraid to get what they want and aren't afraid of each other, creating a dramatic yet believable sense of mystery.

Narcotics detective Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) is taking a forced break after his aggressive attempt to stop a junkie murderer inadvertently resulted in the death of an innocent bystander. But financially unable to care for his wife (Krista Bridges) and newborn child (a baby), he's convinced by "the man" to help a renegade cop, Detective Henry Oak (Ray Liotta), solve his partner's murder. Despite his wife's objections, Tellis is able to use his ability to imagine a crime and make serious headway in the stalled case. But when evidence starts to lead toward Oak, Tellis doesn't know who to trust.

Countless critics have used the word "gritty" to describe his film. I'm not going to pretend to know what that means, but one of the things that makes Narc stand out is its intense violent realism. Frothing at the mouth, blood, gunshots - all the good stuff without the exaggeration we get from horror gore. I’m usually opposed to this, but in this case it gels extremely well with the story. Jason Patric is very good (where’s he been?) and Ray Liotta is typically and enjoyably intense. More impressive than their individual performances is the way the two interact throughout the film. This combination of respect and egoism makes for some very intense and entertaining scenes.

The film's weakest element, although probably pretty realistic anyway, is Tellis's one-note wife, who complains and complains and complains, basically filling out what would otherwise be a short story. Along these lines, Narc is basically the first half hour of a pretty simple episode of Law and Order. Some might argue that the film could be fleshed out more, and it does at times feel a bit rushed. But for the most part, it’s intense and entertaining, well-acted and sharply directed and I can't claim to have figured out the ending before it happened. There is also some seriously well-written dialogue.

The film is thankfully not about glorifying prohibition or police work, making “Narc” a slightly misleading title. This is a film about connecting the pieces and solving a crime, as well as a film about extreme professionals pushed to the edge. It may be a little too forgiving of its antagonist, but at least there’s room for argument. Giant-skulled Chi McBride has a watchable but forgettable part. Giant-mouthed rapper Busta Rhymes gives his all in a pretty impressive way, although it’s easy to look freaked out with stage blood all over you. But the chemistry and artistry of Patric and Liotta is really what makes this film worth seeing and, more importantly, it accomplishes what it sets out to do.
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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