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Flawlessly remastered in 4K, ‘Narc’ will haunt you long after the final credits


The late, great Ray Liotta gives one of the finest performances of his career at Lt. Henry Oak, a Detroit cop who won’t let protocol get in the way of finding his partner’s killers.

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4K Ultra HD, 2002, R for strong brutal violence, drug content and pervasive language

Best extras: a new interview with writer/director Joe Carnahan and cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy’s video essay

SOMETIMES, the stars do align.

Fed up with the roles he was being offered, the late, great Ray Liotta (“Goodfellas”) started his own production company and told his agent that he only wanted to see scripts that weren’t attached to any studio. The first to cross his desk was writer/director Joe Carnahan’s for “Narc.”

In “Shooting Narc,” a new video essay recorded for this exceptional Arrow Video release, cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy (“The Americans”) says that Carnahan told him he would “rather fail trying to do something different than make a traditional, conventional film.”

“Narc” doesn’t fail by any definition.

A throwback to “Serpico” and “To Live and Die in L.A.,” it’s about “the spaces between good and evil and the grey morality baked into the U.S. criminal justice system,” critic Michelle Kisner writes in the accompanying booklet. And from the incredible, handheld opening sequence, when undercover detective Nick Tellis (Jason Patric, “The Lost Boys”) chases a junkie through the ruined streets of Detroit, it punches you in the gut and never lets up.

If you want to jump in a hot shower afterward, you aren’t alone.

(1-5) In the incredible handheld opening sequence, undercover detective Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) chases down a junkie and ends up killing a pregnant woman, sending his life into a freefall.

That chase sent Tellis, himself a user, into a spiral: He killed the junkie – and a pregnant woman when one of his shots ricocheted off a playground slide. His wife Audrey (Krista Bridges, “The Umbrella Academy”) and young son help him heal … somewhat. He can’t fully commit because he’s witnessed life’s fragility firsthand. Now, all he wants is a desk job. Captain Cheevers (Chi McBride, “The Terminal”) says it’s his if he agrees to observe Oak.

That only sounds simple. “Loose cannon” doesn’t begin to describe Oak. His partner Mike Calvess (Alan Van Sprang, “Immortals”), also a narc who was using, was gunned down making a bust and Oak is dead set on meting out justice. “The only thing you need to know about me is that I’m gonna bag the m***********s who* killed Mike,” he tells Tellis. “If that means breaking every point of procedure, then they’re broke.”

Liotta’s performance is among the finest of his career, topped only by “Goodfella’s” Henry Hill. He bulked up for the role, grew a goatee and, in his ever-present overcoat and black gloves, a shotgun at his side, could not be more fearsome as he hunts down Calvess’ killers. But there’s more to the character. In one of the most memorable scenes, Oak remembers being cradled by his wife as she sang to him. When cancer took her, it was easy from him to shove everything else aside and focus.

“The world is seldom black and white,” Carnahan (“The Grey”) says in the engaging new interview “Shattering the Blue Line.” “Oak is reflective – he’s not a bad guy but a troubled guy trying to do something righteous to absolve himself of a greater guilt.”

Same goes for Tellis. His return to the streets doesn’t come without a cost: He not only loses his family, his climactic confrontation with Oak is a shocker. To Carnahan’s immense credit, the ambiguous ending will stick with you for days.

(1&2) Eighteen months later, Tellis is questioned during an internal investigation. (3) After storming out of the hearing he is stopped by Captain Cheevers (Chi McBride), who offers him the desk job he wants in return for observing Oak. (4&5) He finds comfort at home with his wife Audrey (Krista Bridges) and their baby son, but takes Cheevers’ offer and shakes off the rust before returning to the street.


Arrow’s remaster is nothing short of reference-quality. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K 16 bit, restored and graded in 4K SDR, HDR10 and Dolby Vision, and approved by Carnahan and Nepomniaschy.

The results speak for themselves. From the monochromatic opening chase to the warm glow of Tellis’ home life, detail is first-rate, as is the play of shadow and light. Nepomniaschy, who drew on his experience making documentaries, says he wanted the film to feel realistic. He did it by keeping the shoot simple rather than “make it look beautiful.” Instead of balancing light and dark, he “let the highlights be hot and shadows go dark,” giving “Narc” (1.85:1 aspect ratio) a rough edge that suits the story. An unobtrusive, consistent grain caps the cinematic experience – especially with the video bitrate topping out at the upper 90-Megabits-per-second range.

Arrow also delivers on the audio, adding a new eight-channel Atmos mix to the original 5.1 restored stereo track. The minimalistic score by Cliff Martinez (“Traffic”) is icy and haunting, the dialogue, even in the hushed moments, is perfectly clear, and the explosive gunplay careens from wall to wall. Case in point: It sent my dog into my lap.

(1&2) Oak and Tellis discuss their new working relationship. (3) In classic 1970s filmmaking style, writer/director Joe Carnahan uses multi-screens within the frame as Tellis seeks answers in the death of Oak’s partner. (4&5) The cops break down doors and spend long hours staking out subjects for information.


Hats off again to Arrow. In addition to the Carnahan and Nepomniaschy features, the U.K.-based company cut new interviews with Bridges and costume designer Gersha Phillips. The two-disc set also includes a plethora of archival shorts that look at the making of the film and its visual style, and interviews with cast, crew and the great William Friedkin (“The French Connection,” “The Exorcist”), who discusses the connections between his work and “Narc.”

Make time for the collector’s booklet, too. Kisner’s 2024 essay, “This Job Will Either Burn You or Bury You,” provides a thorough rundown of the film, and in a new interview, producer Diane Nabatoff talks about the production company she started with Liotta and his wife Michelle Grace and how lucky they were to begin their partnership with “Narc.”

But start with “The Glitter and the Glue,” Liotta’s no-holds-barred 2003 interview with Tablet, an alternative newspaper that had a brief run in Seattle. It is choice.

Arrow even commissioned new sleeve artwork and a poster by designer Nathaneal Marsh.

What more could you want?  Nada.

– Craig Shapiro

(1-3) Still seeking answers, Tellis re-examines the crime scene photographs and realizes he hasn’t spoken to Kathryn Calvess (Anne Openshaw), the widow of Oak’s partner.(4-6)Tellis and Oak zero in on Darnell “Big D Love” Beery (Busta Rhymes) and Latroy Steeds (Richard Chevolleau). Oak’s brutal interrogation of them leads to the film’s shocking denouement.

1 comentario

Ken Roche
Ken Roche
13 jun

I like what the Arrow crew do, and I'm sure this pic is quite powerful but it sounds perhaps like an experience I might well be able to do without. Grot and grit, even done well can be hard to take - do I need more life-like angst to invade my 'entertainment' space? not so sure about that. Besides, cheap hand held camera work is not my thing. It has to be way above 'wobble-cam' to work as anyway watchable. Best of luck with this one.

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