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The last film that I had the pleasure of witnessing Ray Liotta at work was in the cliché ridden John Q. Although the film was a complete and utter mess, Liotta stood out as the highly decorated police chief Gus Monroe; a by the books kinda guy who cared far too much about his media image. So what would this guy look like if he had taken a few wrong turns in life? Step up NARC. This gritty, low budget cop drama was released to critical acclaim around the world late last year and easily recouped back the films meagre $7.5 million budget. Just a few months later and Paramount release a reasonably feature packed disc; but was it worth the effort? Read on…

Jason Patric stars as Nick Tellis, a police narcotics officer, suspended following a chase that goes disastrously wrong. The result of the accident was the loss of an unborn child, an accident that haunts Tellis every minute of every day. Flash forward to nearly two years later and the troubled officer is brought before the bigwigs at Detroit PD. Much to his surprise, Tellis is offered his job back, on the condition that he helps investigate the unsolved murder of Narcotics agent Michael Calvess. The slain officer was working undercover at the time of his murder and because Tellis is also well versed in undercover work he’s flagged as the perfect man for the job. After much deliberation he reluctantly agrees to take up the offer and before long is partnered with the rather unstable Lt. Henry Oak played by the suitably menacing Ray Liotta. Complicating matters is the revelation that Oak was Calvess’ partner at the time of the shooting and it soon becomes clear that he’s willing to do anything to bag the man that killed him. As Tellis and Oak follow a shadowy trail through the seamy drug underworld, the lines start to blur – between right and wrong, good and evil, and justice and revenge….

First things first. If you’re expecting a completely original cop drama, then NARC probably won’t be your cup of tea. The film adheres to the typical good cop, bad cop formula but thankfully injects enough new ideas to keep the film fresh. A film such as this is built primarily around the performances and thankfully the performances are for the most part, simply brilliant. For starters, this is without a doubt the most impressive performance from Ray Liotta that I think I have ever seen – period. I’ve seen a substantial chunk of Ray Liotta’s past work but I’ve never seen him as utterly convincing as he is here. He was required to gain a fair bit of weight for the role and the result is an incredibly intimidating appearance that suits the character perfectly. When a performance is as good as this you often find that other actors are completely overshadowed but surprisingly they also hold their ground here extremely well. For starters, Jason Patric gives an incredibly soulful performance as the troubled narcotics officer Nick Tellis. I can’t admit to seeing much of his previous work but I’ll certainly be looking out for him in the future. The other surprisingly good performance comes from – wait for it – Busta Rhymes. Rap stars and acting aren’t two things that tend to mix very well so I was pleasantly surprised to see Rhymes turning in an emotional performance as the troubled junkie. All in all, superb performances all round.  

Unfortunately the rest of the film isn’t quite as impressive. For starters the editing at times can be extremely confusing. The initial adrenaline fuelled chase at the opening of the movie has the camera swinging all over the place and at times it isn’t exactly too clear what’s going on. This questionable editing continues throughout the entirely of the film with various flashbacks frequently spliced in to drill home the fact why Tellis isn’t happy and so forth. Another bizarre choice was using ’24 style’ split screens to show the police interviewing various members of the public. This thankfully only happens on one occasion but the scene is so incredibly overlong that I did actually feel like hitting the fast forward button on more than one occasion. There’s only so many times that you need to hear the same questions being asked over and over again! My only other criticism of the film would be the ending. Following a few twists and turns I was hoping for a little more finality to events but the film leaves you on more of a cliff hanger than anything. The initial stages of the movie focus on Tellis’ troubled relationship with his wife and child and that’s all but forgotten by the end. Did they sort things out? I guess we’ll never know. Still, NARC is a film that should be viewed simply on the basis of the performances and for that alone I would recommend this one.

I was expecting a pretty poor presentation given the low budget nature of the film but surprisingly Paramount has pulled out all the stops to create a thoroughly acceptable anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. As with a lot of films these days, the director has made use of filters to alter the appearance of the film stock. NARC for example features a very washed out colour pallet which intentionally reflects the tone of the movie. A degree of grain is also present but again this is the director’s intention more than anything and helps give off the gritty and rough edge necessary.

Paramount have included a selection of three audio tracks to choose from in total. On offer are both English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround tracks as well as an English Dolby Surround track. Naturally the DD5.1 track is the one to go for as it makes for the best use of the soundstage. The film is very dialogue heavy so I was actually surprised how active the track turned out to be. In particular the surrounds are used frequently to good effect with Cliff Martinez’s haunting score making great use of each channel. Despite the high use of surrounds, voices never become muffled and are clear and concise at all times. Overall, a surprisingly decent audio package.

Paramount is finally getting things together with extra material and once again this is displayed with NARC. A decent selection of material is included here and kick-starting things is an audio commentary with writer/director Joe Carnahan and editor John Gilroy. On the whole this is a pretty lighthearted commentary with plenty of amusing little anecdotes being shared between the two commentators. Personally I’m a big fan of laid back commentaries like this, the ones without humour tend to bore me to tears, and so I really enjoyed this one. One rather amusing aspect of the track is that they were explicitly told not to swear on the commentary yet the film has to be one of the most colourful films language wise for quite some time! Well worth a listen, particularly as we’ll be seeing much more of Carnahan’s work in the future – he’s helming the new Mission Impossible film for one.

Next we have a total of four featurettes. The first of these is entitled Narc: Making the Deal, which runs to a little over thirteen minutes. The featurette talks primarily about the films conception, with director Joe Carnahan in particular talking about how difficult it was to get the film made. The director also talks about how the budget forced them to film in Toronto rather than Detroit as well as how some of the all-important casting decisions were made. Interviews with the primary cast are also included here. The next featurette is Narc: Shooting Up and runs to a little under twenty minutes in total. This is easily the most in-depth and honest featurette included on the disc and focuses mainly on the problems caused by the limited budget. It was fascinating to hear how many of the actors weren’t paid for quite some time yet they still turned up the next day to perform their scenes. It’s genuinely nice to hear that big stars like Ray Liotta are still committed to their work rather than being influenced by money. I’m sure many other actors of the same calibre wouldn’t be willing to do that. Next is Narc: The Visual Trip, which looks at how the visual trickery and general tone of the movie was achieved. This one runs to a little under thirteen minutes in total. Completing the featurette line-up is a small feature/interview entitled The Friedkin Connection. This is of course with the award-winning director behind classics such as The French Connection and in it he talks of his love for NARC and even draws comparisons with his own work. It runs to a little under ten minutes in total.

Completing the NARC experience is the films theatrical trailer. This is presented in anamorphic widescreen and runs to just over two and a half minutes in total. It's actually a pretty decent trailer all being said. Rounding things off are some trailers for other Paramount releases including: The Italian Job, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Timeline, The Hunted and The Core. Unfortunately most of these are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen which may disappoint some of you die hard trailer freaks out there! Overall though, a decent, honest selection of extra material.

NARC is probably best described as a gritty version of Training Day with the good cop; bad cop formula playing to great effect. The standout performance is unquestionably from Ray Liotta as Henry Oak who puts in a career best. To be honest I'd even go as far as saying that he surpasses Denzel Washington’s performance in the aforementioned film which is no mean feat. Unfortunately, the film itself isn’t particularly memorable. The editing is at times highly questionable and some of the plot revelations can be seen coming several miles away. Still; NARC is certainly worth a look and the disc that Paramount has put together makes it even more so.