Shoe Box Classics #2 – Narc

Narc explodes onto the screen like a feeling of dire straights...

Every once and a while, a film comes way out of left field and blows everyone away. It is an instant classic, gaining cult status before it has even hit the home cinema market. Films such as Donnie Darko, Moon and The Usual Suspects would fall into this category. Often, this sort of underplayed success is both a blessing and a curse for their creators. Some, like Moon director Duncan Jones or The Usual Suspects helmer Bryan Singer, embrace the Hollywood model and step forward with high profile careers. Others, such as Donnie Darko€™s Richard Kelly try to remain a maverick - outside the studio system, free to explore creative freedom. The term €˜lightening in a bottle€™ applies here, as very rarely does a filmmaker go from strength to strength to strength; there has to be a turkey in there somewhere, an early career slump. Those with Hollywood backing often recover, whilst, on the periphery, only the strong survive. Narc is one of those films which blew the career of director Joe Carnahan wide open. And although he has flirted with the Hollywood frat club (The A-Team and a failed negotiation to direct M:I-3), he was intent on being his own boss, and it seems that Narc may well have set the benchmark way too high for it€™s creator. But what a benchmark it is! Let€™s have a look back at this absolute gem of a film.

Shoe Box Classics - #2 - Narc

After a bust gone wrong, strung out cop Nick Tellis (Jason Patrick) is assigned to a cold case regarding the death of an undercover police officer; Michael Calvess (Alan Van Sprang). Tellis€™ partner for the assignment is the unhinged Henry Oak (Ray Liotta). Both Tellis and Oak have to put their differences and issues aside as they delve deep into the seedy underground world of narcotics and murder, in the hope of bringing Calvess€™ killer(s) to justice - and maybe even exorcising a few demons in the process. Narc explodes onto the screen like a feeling of dire straights (not the band, but rather the impending sense of desperation). Smack bang in the middle of a foot chase, Tellis bursts through doors, scales walls, tends to bloodied victims, eventually shooting a pregnant woman by accident. The scene is frantic, but absolutely engrossing. Carnahan€™s €˜over use€™ (if there is such a thing) of hand held camera work makes the seen almost unwatchable. The blurred visuals and vomit inducing movement creates a frenzy and confusion that is not all-to-common in opening sequences. Yes, there are the usual plot set ups and cliff-hangers, but with Narc, Carnahan goes straight for the jugular then spends the rest of the film going down to your gut - instead of the other way around - something which makes this director one to watch. Training Day is still very much at the forefront of everyone€™s mind. And there is no disputing that Antoine Fuqua€™s award magnet is both high accessible, and a well made film. But it would be a travesty to compare Narc with its heavy weight opponent, as both are very different films. Training Day is a star vehicle for Denzel Washington, and €˜grown up€™ film aimed predominantly at a younger audience. Underneath its thin layer of grease and dirt, lays a shiny and simplified reality that all falls neatly into place. There is no disputing that Training Day is a well made film, and will no doubt send Washington to the top of everyone€™s €˜go to€™ list. But Narc has desperation to it, a sense that despite its stylised violence and by-the-book plot devices, it€™s a film about something real, something tangible. Narc is not about high-level corruption or mid-level crime. It is about low-level voyeurism. From unique twists on a crime scene (shotgun bong) to the humorous mundane (domestic argument with added STDs), Narc sets out to bring fresh eyes to tired old clichés - with a first person perspective from the street. There are a series of articulate and well timed performances from the cast, but Narc is all about the two leads. Ray Liotta absolutely chews up every piece of dialogue he is given, spitting and growling out lines with such distain that you can genuinely feel the impatience of his character, even we he is not on screen. Ironically, Liotta is also the comedic core of the film, providing a sort of sardonic and witless anger that is the catalyst for such corkers as €œquit picking at it!€ A line which is delivered to a heroin addict riddled with Chlamydia. Jason Patrick provides the film with a pain and drive that works well to focus the plot. His eyes betray the soul of a man fraught. Some of his most outstanding moments are also the quietest. A tender interaction with his baby son works beautifully in juxtaposition to the ulcer generating disciplinary sequence before hand. Patrick€™s Tellis never truly comes to understand or control Oak, and as such it creates an uneasy alliance that although fragile, is somehow more real and more trusting than it should be. This is a result of the chemistry between Liotta and Patrick, and a testament to two highly underappreciated actors (forget Speed 2 Jason, all is forgiven). Narc could not have come at a worst time. It will be forever overshadowed by the meth cloud of Training Day, and will probably never get the recognition it deserves. But as with Fight Club, there is hope that time will be kind to it. Narc is the sort of film that independent cinema was created for. It is experimental with themes, yet it retains the right elements of tried and tested methods. It has actors with something to prove, and a director unsullied and full of enthusiasm for his art. It€™s expressive without being pretentious, and it embraces the classic cinematic devices which make films entertaining. With the gentle touch and support of producer Tom Cruise, it is a credit to all involved that the film has retained soul. Narc might not be out to make a point, but it is out to be a strong swift kick to the head - and that my friends, it most definitely is.
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Contributor

Part critic-part film maker, I have been living and breathing film ever since seeing 'Superman' at the tender age of five. Never one to mince my words, I believe in the honest and emotional reaction to film, rather than being arty or self important just for cred. Despite this, you will always hear me say the same thing - "its all opinion, so watch it and make your own." Follow me @iamBradWilliams