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"Narc" is a cop’s police movie

October 01, 2003  |  by George Eliseo

If you are looking for a down-and-dirty cop movie with a compelling story and great performance, then "Narc" will fit the bill. It gets my vote for best police movie of the last few years, and I believe it is destined to join "Serpico," "The New Centurions," "The French Connection," "The Seven-Ups," and "Prince of the City" as one of the classics of the genre.

"Narc" is the story of two very different Detroit cops thrown together in a murder investigation. Jason Patric plays detective Nick Tellis, an undercover narcotics detective on administrative leave after a bad shooting, and Ray Liotta plays Lt. Henry Oak, an intense homicide detective investigating the killing of his former partner. The two men cross paths and cross swords in an investigation that takes them and the viewer through the Motor City's seamy drug underworld.

This is a powerful movie that offers a well-crafted story, vividly drawn characters, believable dialogue, and sure-handed direction. "Narc" is tough, gritty, and realistic, with all the right nuances of working in a big city police department, and it's procedurally right on the mark every time. This is a great movie that keeps you on edge throughout and offers a clever twist at the end.

But the real payoff in this movie is the great performances by Jason Patric and Ray Liotta. Both of these actors are at the top of their games in "Narc," and they come across as real cops with real personalities. Patric's performance is suitably low-key. His character is an undercover cop; he listens more than he talks; he thinks about what he's doing next, and he keeps his head down. Liotta's performance is the opposite and much flashier. He chews scenery as the tough felony cop who kicks ass and takes names.

Let me say that I generally don't approve of how Hollywood portrays cops. We're often painted as brutal, corrupt alcoholics. And granted the cops in this movie do some things that are brutal and they suffer from substance abuse and other problems, but there's more to them than just their vices. They are complete, three-dimensional characters with bad, good, and neutral traits.

"Narc" rates a 9.0 on our Real Cops Believability Scale, with 1.0 being totally unbelievable and 10.0 being very believable. For comparison, a Steven Segal movie usually rates in the 1.5 range.

This is a great police procedural. Investigators use the right equipment, and the right people perform the right duties. The detectives talk to parole officers, check for warrants, use the computer, and talk on the radio. Uniform cops and the medical examiner are called out when needed. The heroes don't do everything in their investigation, like some cops do in the movies.

The dialogue is another reason why "Narc" is a cut above when it comes to cop movies. If you just heard an audio tape of this movie, it would sound like real cops talking to real suspects, real cops talking to each other, talking to their captain, to their wives, and to a review board. It is right on the money.

"Narc" tells a believable story about believable people entangled in a horrible situation. It has respect for people who wear a badge, even if its focus is the price that officers pay when the job becomes unbearable.

Rent or buy "Narc." It's a great cop movie.

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