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Thread: NARC (Joe Carnahan 2002) - vintage CK review

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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    NARC (Joe Carnahan 2002) - vintage CK review

    My 2003 review of NARC.

    I have fond memories of this review - from when I was still just posting "user comments" on IMDb and didn't have a website of my own (or Filmleaf, or Filmwurld) - because I really cared about this movie. And more than that, because this was one of the rare occasions when a director has emailed me and thanked me for my review. What Joe particularly liked and said was right on about my Narc "user comment" was my saying "that careening forward whoosh!" of the opening set a pace that was impossible to follow up on. A lesson that's often been disregarded in movies since. Maybe it will be more read here than at the end of 250 vintage IMDb "comments." Carnahan's debut was underappreciated, and so was my review. At the end of it it says "0 out of 1 found this helpful." (Correction: I was actually wrong: this was not his debut. In 1998 he wrote and directed Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane. It may be correct that this is the first of his films that's remembered, however.)


    24 January 2003

    Something has been brought to an end.

    Warning: Spoilers

    If Joe Carnahan, the director of `Narc,' wanted to fully redefine the cop genre he'd probably need somebody less familiar in the crook/cop role than Ray Liotta (Oak), but he wouldn't find a better actor than Liotta to play such a role, or anyone with more charismatic outsider-ness than Jason Patric (Tellis). Anyway, `Narc' gets the grit award for this new year, and joins a roster with the odd likes of `Reservoir Dogs,' `Training Day,' and `The Yards' among well crafted portraits of an America where all is dark, violent, and unresolved. This can go in different directions - the fun is all in the dialogue in `Dogs,' or in the moral confusion in `Day,' or in the beautiful Godfatherish melancholy in `Yards,' but in `Narc' it's more a headlong sense of self destructive righteous fury that sets the style. And neediness. This is a movie about craving, deep junky lust for a fix and deep cop hunger for redemption and revenge.

    There are also elements from other star performances in the roster, too. There is a good measure of moral confusion, there's some very intense, attention-getting dialogue, there's melancholy (if we only had a minute's chance to feel it), and there's even a final sequence where the truth is revealed and yet left confused , la `Rashomon,' on a set that clearly evokes `Reservoir Dogs.' This is the movie's most memorable passage. We're trapped in this big scary desolate space with two tied up drug dealers who're being menaced and interrogated. It's a cowboy showdown in reverse. Nobody goes outside and walks. We're stuck in a cesspool. The two actors who play those two drug dealers do a terrific job at their roles too - somewhat thanklessly, since there is a long moment where the two cops are having their showdown and the dealers are cut out, left as disembodied voices. (This is an uncomfortable moment, as is Patric's character's awkward, clumsily handled visit to the dead cop's widow.) This showdown sequence is the best part of the movie not only because it's where everything has led but because it has a sense of steadiness: for once in `Narc' we stay in one place.

    Unlike Tarantino, who may be an influence, Carnahan isn't an ironist and he isn't in it for the fun. No, everything is sincere in `Narc,' except that people lie a lot, as crooks and shady cops will do. If `Narc' has an overriding flaw, other than its almost too deep rootedness in genre, it's too much momentum. Not that Carnahan isn't profoundly good at the rush and pull. The opening protagonist's POV handheld camera chase is thrillingly kinetic. No matter how often this kind of thing has been done, from `COPS' on out, this is riveting. But such an opener sets a dangerous precedent: how can the movie maintain that careening forward whoosh! without wearing us out long before the end? It can't, and it is wearying. Even Patric's character snuggling with his wife and baby doesn't break the headlong onward rush. The movie needed to pull back sometimes and brood over it all for a minute, feel the dark sorrow of lifelong emersion in moral taintedness that James Gray evokes so beautifully in `The Yards,' and it doesn't, and can't. Perhaps it needs commercial breaks, or the impulsive intermissions the video watcher is capable of. Perhaps it will indeed be lost (I saw it in a near-empty theater) till video- and DVD-time.

    Too bad, because `Narc' wants to become an irresistibly vivid barrage on the senses and thought processes and it succeeds. The two interviews with addict witnesses set a standard of intensity and human color that's hard to beat. When you have a level of craziness on both sides like this, you don't need special effects. `Narc' is honestly one powerful viewing experience, and there are no wrong notes. It is true that some of the plot devices are both confusing and questionable - `Narc' is too caught up in the genre to avoid that. But one doesn't ever feel manipulated. Within the limitations of the script, the acting and direction and production remain first class. If you had to see one movie about two sidelined cops on one last mission to redeem or cover up for or revenge a partner -whatever it is they're doing - digging deep into dirt hoping hopelessly to come out clean - this would be the movie to see, and you need no other. Something has been brought to an end. - Chris Knipp

    My review of Carnahan's The Gray (Jan. 2012) is on Filmleaf HERE.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-11-2020 at 11:27 PM.


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