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Al writes… Stephen wrote about Narc ages ago, when the trailer was just a wee bairn, and the movie’s release date was some far off distant point, where a mooring post hadn’t yet been erected. Promises were made between me and this tough-looking Ray Liotta/Jason Patric cop movie; promises to turn up at the cinema, to watch it in the medium it was born to. But, of course, it slipped by my multiplex, maybe getting a Wednesday afternoon student showing on its way through, and leaving me probably watching something like Daredevil with the masses and wondering if I’d just seen the most subversive S&M movie ever…

So we met, at last, on DVD – and it’s great, but don’t just take my word for it, check out the ten minute “Ode to Narc” that William “French Connection” Friedkin delivers during one of the many extras. He says all the things you 70’s cinema aficionados will tongue at like hungry little chicks, “it reminded me of… the only comparison can be with that era…” And so on. He’s so generous with his praise that Narc’s director, Joe Carnahan (who’s slated for producer Tom Cruise’s M:I-3), is calling him Willy by the end of it, but I’m sure a man like Friedkin would have bitch-slapped him upside of the head once off camera.

It’s got all the worst cliches of a cop movie, the shouty black police chief, the battle-weary detectives with the fucked up family lives, dirty cops, cops trying to atone for past mistakes – an absolute roll call of any theme or character device used in a cop movie since films started rolling – except for the Keystone Cops, there’s no running around in circles chasing each other. But it still works. If you’ve read any of the reviews you might be expecting me to flag up Ray Liotta’s performance right now, and he’s very good, but you kind of expect that. In fact you kind of expect both Liotta and Patric to be good (if you’ve seen any of Patric’s rather obscure flicks, excepting Speed 2 which didn’t mean to be obscure), it’s much like going to see Celtic – you know they’re brilliant, you just want them to put on a performance to match their talent.

Liotta is all psycho-stare then, interspersed with much psycho-shouting. Again proving that he lost himself in the more addled parts of his role in Goodfellas and never resurfaced. He’s “on the edge” and “burnt-out” and what not, according to his captain, but he’s still allowed to walk around with a billiard ball in a sock and beat the shite out of suspects – ‘cos it’s the code or something. Patric is the cop-atoning-for-a-past-mistake, an event that takes up the movie’s opening scene, and he’s suitably fucked-up.

In fact, Patric portrays some of the best I’m-so-fucked-up emotions I’ve seen for a long while, effortlessly pissing on the turns other thesps like Ethan Hawke and Brad Pitt made in cop flicks. He’s a great one for primal noises see. Jason Patric grunts and howls like no actor alive right now, except possibly for Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct, and it all kicks off with the first scene where *SPOILER* Patric, his undercover alias blown, is chasing after a lethal-syringe-wielding maniac who kills one innocent bystander and then grabs a toddler in a park. *SPOILER ENDS* Leading to two mighty fine banshee howls from Patric as he’s torn between what he has to do on instinct and the consequences of his actions. Honestly, this sequence is so good (and there’s a whole DVD extra devoted to it), I put it straight back on once the flick as a whole had finished – I don’t think I’ve done that since Betty Blue.

From the interviews with Patric and Liotta it seems that the two went method on the ultra-cheap shoot, electing not to talk to each other outside of their scenes together. It lends the subsequent screen time the kind of tension that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro fumbled around so badly for in their one scene in Heat. So tense are some of the standoffs (come, you knew there’d be lots of those) that at one point I actually thought Liotta was going to rip off Patric’s head and shit down his neck – I don’t know, there was something in his eyes when he caught Patric questioning someone he shouldn’t have been, maybe Jason asked Liotta what he’d been doing since 1990.

What’s it about? Well, Liotta’s partner has been killed, no-one’s saying nothin’, and Patric is just the right last-chance loser to put on the case. Everything looks really cold (Detroit-as-filmed-in Toronto), and you know the extremes of temperature always look boss on film. People don’t finish their sentences, there are long pauses in dialogue, the violence scares the beejesus out of you, and Patric carries off a beanie hat with studied aplomb. Dirty mother probably didn’t even take it off his bonce for the whole shoot.

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  • Chris Kent

    Great blog. I loved this movie. Now I have a better idea why.