Thursday, March 17, 2011

Narc has only just this minute hit me that I watched two 'cop' movies in a row last night. Believe me that was just a coincidence, and in hindsight of my last review instructive. If Hot Fuzz is a 'cop' homage, then here in Narc is the real deal and one of the better ones I have seen in many a while.
 I picked this off the shelf yesterday because of my namesake's review on his blog. ( Again I recommend you get clicking and get over there to read his fine and comprehensive review at Criminal movies ). I had never heard of it before and I believe it had a very limited run in US theatres, so that would explain its absence from NZ screens.
 This is definitely one of the best cop movies I have seen in a long time. It is gritty, seedy, uncompromising, and probably as close as the viewer will ever get to being a cop in the US. I liken this movie to Hill Street Blues without the constraints of television. Blues, as we all know, was highly regarded in its day for its realism and authentic look at life within a New York police station. Narc is very much within the same vein as it is an unglamorous look into the underworld of Detroit.
 And what a look it is. The cinematography of this film is wonderful as it shows the viewer the run down, decrepit, socially poor end of town. The lighting is superb, atmospheric, almost sureal, as it captures the mood and feeling of a social group caught in a never ending cycle of poverty. I sat watching this slack jawed at the sheer desolation of this city. There is absolutely nothing like it here in NZ. It is also great that it was filmed during a cold season. The bleakness adds so much 'air' to this cycle and it makes it clear, in a very quiet, subtle manner, what is well known, that poverty breds crime when there seems no hope of there being anything else. 
 This cinematography cannot be understated because it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It adds a beautifully realised setting that many cities in America must recognise. But at no time is there any sense of judgement or blame. That is the way life is and there is no way to gloss over, or hide it. This is warts and all realism. And against that realism we have a great plot.
 I won't go into a synopsis as this isn't the style of my reviews, suffice to say it isn't really anything new. You know, undercover cop gets shot and killed, no leads, no suspects, cop under a cloud gets the dirty job of solving it with a renegade cop.
 The story line may be familiar but what sets this cop movie apart from the rest is the performances and the pacing. This isn't a fast moving movie. It isn't all shoot 'em up, bang bang you're dead, car chase, shot 'em up again, go home stuff. It moves slowly and builds the two cop's (Liotta and Patric ) characters, and goes deep into their home lives and the problems associated outside of work due to the nature of their jobs. But for its pacing it is never boring. At the end I was surprised that one and a half hours had slipped by. It isn't long but gives a feeling of having been so. It is perfectly paced as these two cops battle their own demons and the crims and scum they have to deal with day in day out. Against the desolaton of Detroit it casts a palpable pall of gloom over the viewer.
 The people these two meet are unbelievable. The guy with clap is so pitiful in his ravings at her ' putrid pussy' and yet turns around and yells at her 'I love you'. A corpse is found in a bath tub with its head blown off. It turns out the guy had been smoking weed and used a loaded shotgun as a pipe!! And so on and so forth. The performances of both Patric and Liotta must be praised as they play two cops who have to deal with this type of shit day in and day out. They are superb as two characters who we see being ground down emotionally by what they see each day.
 This for me sets this apart from so many cop movies. It is character based and shows the impact on the cops, their minds, their well being, and home lives. I haven't seen anything else that has gone so deep into this territory. I'm not overly fond of Jason Patric as I've always found him a somewhat syrupy actor. In Narc he pulls out a stella performance. He is so believable as a cop who is beginning to feel the weight of his job on his back. I was impressed at the way he walked, you could see this was a man who was geting tired of the things he was seeing. Body language can make or break a role and Patric here does it extremely well. I could easily buy into his character.
 Ray Liotta was born for this type of role. He has had an up and down career and I feel this must almost be his best role yet. He is menacing, angry, disillusioned, and looks like a man on the edge about to crack, if he has not already. My only gripe with him, and this movie, was by the end I was a bit sick of Liotta's yelling. Sure it was his role but I felt like I had been hit over the head with a sledgehammer by the end. A minor matter really beacuse it was the what the role demanded.
 The contrast between the two men is marked and at the core of the film. As stated it isn't a shoot 'em up cop movie, but a study of character and what makes men like this tick within a shitty job and environment. At first we sympathise with Patrick and are repelled by Liotta, but by the end we find they really are no different in outlook. Patrick holds everything in whilst Liotta lets it all out with shouting, kicking, punching, and the like. They are both good at their jobs and again go about it in different ways but in wanting the same result. Patrick is quiet and calculating whilst Liotta is loud and threatening. In the end Liotta's methods get the better of Patrick and they fall out.
 The end of the movie is a cracker. It isn't so much a twist ending but it isn't what you expect. We finally get the truth and also see that for all Liotta's menace and anger he really is a caring guy who has seen too much and been emotionally brutalised by it. He sees an opportuntity to do some right against the rules. It ends with him dying and us not ever knowing what Patrick will do with the truth. It is a poignant moment as it all dawns on him what Liotta's motives were even if they were somewhat reprehensible.
A extremely good cop movie that I highly recommend. It isn't your run of the mill cops and robbers movie. This is gritty, nasty, stark, filthy, realistic stuff and a great portrayal of police work in the US. All I can say is this...who would want to be a cop if this is what it is like.
Click here for asynopsis:

PS. One thing to watch out for in Narc is the overall quality of it detail wise. For example watch the final scenes. Notice the black guy with he bald head. Notice the steam rising from it as he has just been chased and caught by Liotta. Remember the movie was made during the cold months of Northern America so there is also the breath of the actors indoors that can be seen too. ( No heating provided for these actors! ). It is a good bit of detailing that the film maker could easily have discarded but for me adds realism and credibility.


  1. wonderful review. You hit the nail right on the head. It really is all about the characters and the small details. It didn't get the press it should've, but I'm glad you found a copy. I know what you mean about being sick of Liotta'a yelling, but think about how everyone around him (and he himself) feels! They have to be pretty tired of it too!

  2. It is an exampe of a good film that goes unheralded because it doesn't get enough publicity. I look at The King' Speech. Would it have been so popular if it hadn't been rammed down people's throats.
    This is a quiet sleeper that caught me unawares as to how good it really is. Glad I sat down and watched it.

  3. I agree with you that "this is gritty, nasty, stark, filthy, realistic stuff and a great portrayal of police work in the US", but, to be honest, I found the film a bit too realistic. It was still great, but maybe I was in the mood for some more action-oriented flick that night. Even though I loved it in general, I have never gotten the urge to re-watch it.

    And speaking of police and the inner workings inside the departments, I highly suggest that you take a look at HBO's commercially unsuccessful, but highly critically acclaimed TV series "The Wire". It holds a 9.7/10 on IMDb with 33,000 votes, and is often cited as the best TV show ever created.

    It was so unconventional, and so realistic, that it was simply amazing. I was blown off my feet, and devoured the 5 seasons in no time. Seriously, I cannot emphasize enough how brilliant it was. If you ever get the chance, see it!

  4. Never heard of that series. Unfortunately NZ tele is very conservative and anything like that just wouldn't get aired.
    I know what you mean about being in the right mood for a movie. If you aren't then chances are you won't enjoy what you watch. It can then mean that a good movie can pass you by. I think this is as good a cop movie as you will ever see.

  5. Very Gritty, Ray Liotta, while going over the top sometimes, was excellent.

    Also here is our review: