Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) is an undercover narcotics agent who has spent the last year under investigation for a shooting that went wrong. Nick was firing his gun at a fleeing drug dealer but he hit a pregnant woman instead. After 18 months of being caught in administrative limbo, Nick is made an offer. It’s thought that, with his knowledge of Detroit’s crime and drug scene, that he might be uniquely suited to investigate the murder of another undercover agent, Michael Calvess. Nick agrees but, in return, he wants a desk job. He’s got a wife and a baby and he’s tired of putting his life on the line for nothing. Nick also wants to work with Detective Henry Oak (Ray Liotta). Oak was one of the original investigators of Calvess’s murder. Nick is warned that Oak has a reputation for being unstable and out-of-control. Nick isn’t fazed because he has the same reputation.
Oak turns out to be more than just out of control. He is the epitome of a bad cop, beating suspects and thinking nothing of threatening to kill a man unless he confesses. However, Oak gets results. Oak suggests that you can’t fight crime in Detroit if you play by the rules and Narc is the type of grim and gritty film that doesn’t give you any reason to think that Oak is incorrect. Oak and Nick investigate Calvess’s death and both of them discover that the department would rather just sweep the case under the rug than actually discover what really happened. The department just wants someone that they can pin the crime on, not the truth. Even after the case is officially declared as being closed, Nick and Oak continue their investigation. Nick, however, starts to suspect that Oak knows more about Calvess’s death than he’s willing to admit.
Narc opens with an amazingly shot chase scene that will leave you breathless and then it just keeps going without once letting up on the intensity. Narc is a grim and violent film about two damaged men trying to solve a case that no one else cares about. Jason Patric has never been better than he was in Narc and, while Ray Liotta has played his share of unstable cops, he takes things to whole other level with Narc. Director Joe Carnahan does such a good job of capturing the decay and desperation of life in Detroit that, even while you’re worried that both Nick and Oak are going to end up going too far in their pursuit of what they consider to be justice, you still can’t help but feel that they’ve both got a point. Who plays by the rules when the world’s on fire?