Joe Carnahan’s Narc is a proper old school ass kicking crime picture, and a blistering one that pulls no punches in the grit department either. Carnahan is clearly in love with the rugged action/genre pieces from the 60’s and 70’s that he grew up with, and every film he has made so far in his career has been reflective of that, starting with this excellent debut. He comes charging out of the gate as fast as his lead character breathlessly pursues a perp through a run down suburban neighborhood, a sequence of pure visceral brilliance that sets the tone and let’s us know he means business. Jason Patric plays Nick, an under cover narcotics officer with a decorated past and the scars to show for it, working the dankest streets of motor city Detroit. When a recently slain fellow officer’s case is reopened, he is picked to investigate, joined by the deceased cop’s former partner, Lt. Henry Oak (Ray Liotta). In this case, nothing is what it seems, agendas are hidden well, and violence constantly simmers just below the surface of every interaction and exchange of dialogue. This is especially the case with Liotta, who gives a staggering career best performance as a cop on the edge of sanity, justifying his heinous actions on the body of his slain friend. No one knows how to lose their cool like Ray, but here he is downright terrifying, a wild eyed monster and the epitome of the guy not to trust, lest you be driven down the same destructive path. Nick uncovers more secrets than he ever wished to know, and it all comes full circle in an angry, pulse rocketing confrontation that serves as one of the best blow ups in the genre, and goes to show you don’t need a huge epic gunfight to cap off your story with style and intensity. Carnahan wisely keeps the fireworks man to man, and intimate in nature, proving once again what intuition he has in the director’s chair. Chi Mcbride is always reliable, here playing the gruff police captain, and Busta Rhymes proves yet again that he’s one of the few rappers who can actually act, giving a pretty damn committed performance as a thug. Liotta owns this one in pure beast mode, but the team effort is what makes it so special, and a crime classic. Carnahan and Co. have done something timeless for crime films, and raised the bar on the intensity level one can attain when everything is in place, and firing on all cylinders. A powerhouse of a film, and a mini masterpiece.
Barry Levinson’s Sleepers is a deliberately paced, downbeat look at revenge, and is one of the most brilliant yet seemingly overlooked dramas of the 90’s. Part of it could have been marketing; The cover suggests blistering violence, confrontation and courtroom intrigue. While there are such moments within the narrative, they live to serve the story, which Levinson and his dream cast are doggedly intent on telling. It’s a sombre affair to be sure, slow and methodical as well, but never to be confused with boring. It’s just such a great story, one that unfolds exactly as it needs to. It starts in the 1950’s, where four young rapscallions run wild on the streets of Manhatten. It kicks the story off with a sort of urban Stand By Me vibe, and if you thought that film went to some heavy placed, stick around through Sleepers. When an innocent prank ends in tragedy, the four are sent to an austere children’s correctional facility, where they run afoul of some sadistic and abusive guards, led by Kevin Bacon, who is scummier than scum itself. They endure months of ritual abuse at the hands of these sickos, until their eventual release. Life goes on, as it must, the four boys grow up and follow very different paths from one another. Michael (Brad Pitt) becomes an esteemed lawyer. Shakes (Jason Patric) lives a quiet life, while Tommy (Billy Crudup, wonderfully cast against type) and John (Ron Eldard) take a darker road to drugs and crime. Eventually their past rears it’s head, and they are presented with an opportunity for much delayed revenge. It doesn’t all play out the way you may think though, and half the fun of this one is being surprised by geniunly lifelike plot turns and characters who behave as real humans would. Pitt is the highlight in a performance of quiet torment. Dustin Hoffman is fun as a washed up lawyer who gets involved, Minnie Driver shows up as a tough NYC gal who gets involved with Patric, Robert De Niro has a nice bit as a kindly priest who counsels the boys even until adulthood, and there’s further supporting work from Jonathan Tucker, Bruno Kirby, Frank Medrano, Brad Renfro, Terry Kinney and more. Levinson usually takes on bright, chipper comedies and razor sharp political satire. With Sleepers he deviates into tragic dramatic material, and shows his versitility excellently. This one gets grim, no doubt about it. However, it’s a story not only worth the telling, but worth the watching for us.