USA 2002 : Joe Carnahan : 105mins

As its no-nonsense, monosyllabic title* might suggest, Narc is a tough little thriller – perhaps a little too tough at times, with writer-director Carnahan getting occasionally carried away with the hard-boiled, blood-spattered grimness of his pared-down, predictably twisty story. At heart, however, he’s come up with yet another variant on the well-worn idealistic-young-cop-meets-maybe-dodgy-older-cop genre of which Training Day is the most prominent recent example. This time Jason Patric is the well-meaning greenhorn, teamed with no-nonsense veteran Ray Liotta to investigate the suspicious death of an undercover cop – both actors are conspicuously chunkier and hairier than usual, and they deliver strong, contrasting performances with Liotta barking out his lines Pacino-style and Patric sensibly opting to underplay and deliver his dialogue with disarming gentleness.

Carnahan is clearly skilled with actors – the impressive performance he elicits from a child actor indicates as much. His hyperkinetic visual style, however, takes some getting used to – he favours hand-held camerawork, slightly bleached-out visuals (cinematograper: Alex Nepomnischy) and disorientingly fast cutting (editor: John Gilroy) with copious use of flashbacks featuring distorted lighting and other flashy effects. But once he settles into his rhythm, this approach proves well suited to his material – the film makes effective use of chilly Detroit locales, painting the city in a harsh palette of blues and greys, with bursts of white when the actors’ breath steams into the air. On this evidence post-industrial, graffiti-choked, crime-plagued, sub-zero Motown is what people mean when they talk about hell freezing over.


17th February, 2003
(seen same day, Warner Village, Newcastle)

* the title is an abbreviation of ‘Narcotics Officer’ – British audiences should not confuse this with the UK slang term ‘Nark’ which refers to a police informant or stool-pigeon.