Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) an undercover officer suspended after a botched drug bust left a pregnant woman dead is lured back to duty on the Detroit Police Force to help vet officer Henry Oak (Ray Liotta) after his rookie partner is murdered. Oak is a tough-as-nails homicide detective with an enviable record of convictions but he needs the streetwise Tellis to infiltrate the drug world his partner had also inhabited. He agrees and then must deal with marital pressures since his wife is seething that he has returned to dangerous work on the street. Tellis' sleuthing discovers the rookie's wife Katherine (Anne Openshaw) isn't everything she seems a pathetic addict who puts Tellis on the path of two key suspects. A startling denouement with Tellis battling the two dealers at their grubby chop shop and confronting the less-than-forthcoming Oak reveals surprising relationships and an unexpected dimension to Oak's dead partner.
Narc is remarkably rich in strong performances from leads and supporting actors alike. Both Patric as the tortured morally bound Tellis and Liotta as the determined and cryptic Oak deserve Oscar noms for their compelling measured all-too-convincing performances. The remainder of the cast including Busta Rhymes and Chi McBride as the vicious drug-dealing suspects is dead-on in their lesser but totally convincing roles.
Filmmaker Joe Carnahan who made a little splash with his micro-indie Blood Guts Bullets and Octane a few years ago triumphs here with his first big-budget effort. Moving into the mainstream with amazing ferocity skill and confidence Carnahan shows a remarkable awareness of the grammar of film and the importance of performance. The style Carnahan applies--fast furious heated steeped in the steely blues and grays of urban wastelands--perfectly suits his story but never gets in the way of his characters and their dilemmas. Adapting his screenplay from a 30-minute version of Narc which in turn was inspired by the acclaimed documentary The Thin Blue Line Carnahan also delivers a perfectly crafted script that allows his actors to triumph.