Narc – 2003
Written and Directed by Joe Carnahan
When an investigation into the death of an undercover narcotics officer stalls, the Detroit police department calls on Nick Tellis (Jason Patric), a former narc who became a drug addict and was fired 18 months ago when he accidentally shot a pregnant woman during a chase. Now cleaned up and with a wife and child of his own, Tellis must team up with Henry Oak (Ray Liotta), an aggressive, violent cop who is the dead narc’s ex-partner. Tellis and Oak must see through the lack of evidence while the brass want the case closed as quickly as possible and Tellis’ wife is unhappy he back on the streets.
Despite what much of the advertising and buzz would have us believe, this is not Ray Liotta’s movie, and that is unfortunate because he gives us most of the film's entertaining moments. His character definitely qualifies as “supporting” and he barely has more screen time than Tellis’s wife. This means that the story has to be carried by Jason Patric (or, as he was derisively referred to in all post-movie discussion, “Speed 2’s Jason Patric”) and he is not up to this duty. Henry Oak is a mean son of a bitch, and to follow him for a whole movie could have been really interesting. Instead we are stuck with Patric’s boring Nick Tellis, a character who when he is not brooding over crime scene photos or being yelled at by his wife, simply has Liotta’s Oak steal every scene he is in.
Joe Carnahan’s directing manages to be both manic and boring at the same time. After an excellent opening scene depicting the chase and shooting that leads to Tellis being kicked off the force, he settles into the standard quick cut, frame-fucking style that simply screams “Ooohhh! Look how cool I am! Your needing my directing wisdoms bad!” and leaves the viewer feeling disconnected and confused. The film ends up dragging along, with not enough scenes of on-the-street police work, and too many instances of Tellis arguing with his wife or sitting silently.
For an independent film that claims to have complex and morally ambiguous characters, I was expecting an ending that left me conflicted over the fate of the investigation, or at least painted actions from earlier in the film in a new light. Instead I was treated to a series of coincidences and a final, pat answer that left me and my friends leaving the theater unsatisfied.
I guess I'm just disappointed because I really wanted to like this movie and it did not live up to my expectations. I'll probably end up watching it again on video just to give it another chance.