Make his day. Go
ahead, I dare ya.
Review written by: Alex Sandell
Who was smoking what when they greenlighted this project? Whoever he or she was definitely got their decades crossed and thought this was 1973, rather than 2003. Modern America isn't ready for this movie, but it's being put into wide-release this Friday, nonetheless.
Thirty years ago, United States filmgoers were more than prepared for films such as Narc; a darkly cynical and brutally honest portrayal of a cop really on the edge and the partner who is teetering there along with him. In 1973 we had Sidney Lumet's quintessential cop drama, Serpico. The same year brought us Martin Scorsese's, Mean Streets. Thirty years later it looked as though the most hard-boiled film we were about to be served was going to be The Matrix Reloaded. And then, like a gift from the celluloid gods of Heaven's locally owned Cinema & Cafe, we get an order of Narc, on the side.
Writer and director Joe Carnahan definitely got some of the explicit grit of films from past masters such as Scorsese and Lumet stuck in-between his teeth back in the seventies and is now using Narc to pick them out, one grainy shot of cinematic nostalgia at a time. This type of film hasn't gone completely extinct, and I can actually imagine Narc playing in an art-house in some big city on a double-bill with Memento. What I'm having trouble imaging (but love the thought of) is that it is going to go wide and invade small-town America like a cancer wiggling its way somewhere between trite triplets, Maid in Manhattan, Just Married and Two Weeks Notice.
Co-star Ray Liotta, the driving force of the film, isn't a smiling Sandra Bullock, a bouncy Jennifer Lopez or an anorexic Brittany Murphy playing an irrepressibly sappy lover in a 90-minute Hallmark card; he's a bulky, raging, pissed off lookin' bastard playing a hair-trigger tempered cop in such a vivid manner you flinch when he lifts his arm to take a swing, because it's hard to believe his fist isn't going to permeate the screen and punch your pretty face into a silly looking coma container.
I can't recall a time when I felt this much unease over an on-screen character. I've had cops bust and bruise me in my real life and didn't feel as uncomfortable around them as I did sitting safely in a theater seat watching Liotta pretending to be a detective up on the silver screen. Fortunately, Jason Patric, in the role of Liotta's more sensible partner, adds some leverage to the film and calms the audience down a bit by playing off of Liotta's rage in a way that perfectly reflects the squeamishness you can nearly smell emanating from the folks who filled up the auditorium to witness this movie unfolding before them.
Behind this pair of great performances is that grit spitting director, Joe Carnahan. Both actors benefit from Carnahan's frantic directing and John Gilroy's rapid-fire editing. Carnahan, with Gilroy's assistance, cuts through any soft spots Liotta may have displayed in his performance and creates an intimidating monster of a man. Patric's every doubting wince is left in, giving us a stark contrast between the two characters. Whenever Liotta and Patric are on the screen together, the film sizzles. Sad as it is to say, the picture does cool down significantly due to a few imperfections with the plot.
It becomes apparent that Carnahan spent more time working out the style of his film than he did working on its substance. If you scrape away at the surface of the movie you'll find a fairly standard cop drama buried directly underneath. It's all here: the cop who wants to get a nice desk job so he can be safe and spend more time with his wife and child, the wife of the cop who wants the desk job that can't accept her husband going back out on the street, the assorted group of goons with their goofy lines pulled straight out of NYPD Blue, the amusing detective story leading up to the fairly predictable ending, and so on and so on. With a less conventional script, Carnahan may have crafted my favorite film of 2002 (the movie has been in limited release since December of last year), but as it is he's simply created an exceptionally well made piece of celluloid mayhem.
While Carnahan's writing isn't quite up to par with the best of the best, his heart is in the right place and his film is at least 80% there. Thankfully for anyone sick of "quips," Carnahan remembers a time in film history when comic relief wasn't mandatory and he revives that cinematic era in Narc. The film doesn't pause after an intense moment to make room for the standard audience belly laugh that has become as much a part of American cinema as the happy ending or corporate product placement. The film doesn't tie everything up into a tidy little bundle during the movie's final ten minutes so that the audience can feel like they got their $8.50 worth. The film doesn't even seem to be trying for commercial success as much as it's trying to put the dirt back underneath the fingernails of a finely manicured Hollywood.
Narc is as in-your-face as movies released in 2003 are likely to get. It's blood, brutality and bullets served up 70's style. Yes, the film belongs in 1973, but it's so nice to see a picture of its type being released three decades too late that you won't have time to count the years. Maybe like the guitarist Santana before it, Narc will be a surprise hit and start a revival of the darkest decade of film. How wonderful it would be if one movie could get us off of this watered-down diet of mediocre PG-13 material we've been force-fed ever since the Government "discovered" that people under 17 were *gasp* seeing "R" rated movies such as Scream. I can't recommend enough that if you're reading this review you be at the forefront of this revival by packing your strongest stomach and a bottle of Excedrin and kick back into your bucket seat and welcome back the lost cinema of yesteryear. You may be surprised over just how much you missed it.
On a scale of 1-10?
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Text ©(Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].
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