Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Filmed with the least steady handheld camera on the market, the chase scene that opened 2002’s Narc took up only two frenetic, violent, bloody and disturbing minutes. Still, the gritty, bleak, feverishly involving tone was set for this cop thriller.
With a wife and baby at home, undercover Detroit cop Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) needs a desk job. His superiors will grant him one, provided he can crack the complicated slaying of a fellow undercover officer. Pairing with the deceased’s unpredictably violent former partner, Lt. Henry Oak (Ray Liotta), the shocking truth spills forth in a breathlessly suspenseful, surprising finale.
Writer/director Joe Carnahan’s breakthrough film unpredictably tightens its chokehold with its execution. From the intense personal drama in Tellis’s home to the violence in Detroit’s dilapidated warehouses, Narc blisters with a slow-burn intensity and a raw, vibrant sound design to complement its hard look and feel.
Oscar buzz for Liotta’s performance never panned out, not even to a nomination, but Liotta laced his best work since GoodFellas with humor, menace and, in his best scene, a truly sincere backstory. Sporting a weary, puffy purplish face and a morbid cackle matched by buggy eyes, Oak frightened just as much when shushing someone as when shoving a shotgun in his face.
It was impossible to not get swept up in the frantic nervousness as Carnahan brilliantly melted down these two cops’ extremely tenuous partnership. Although it was hardly new ground, Carnahan administered a visceral shot of adrenaline to the police-procedural genre.