Undercover and On the Surface

Existing entirely within a dirty, ramshackle Detroit, Narc’s narrative exists in perpetual squalor. Even inside the police station, misshapen stacks of paper hide the top of desks, with walls full of thumb-tacked evidence. Scenes dealing with the home life of undercover narcotics cops show an equal measure of disarray.

In this mix is former addict Nick Tellis (Jason Patric), rejoining the force to find a cop killer, but the job takes its toll on his marriage. Narc is entirely male-focused, both in its aggressiveness and disdain for everyone not an officer. That goes for the women too, in particular Tellis’ wife Audrey who is negated to a background role, moping about the house as she worries for her husband. It’s an embarrassingly stock role.

Narc works because of its willingness to show violence

The focus is on Tellis and deranged partner Henry Oak (Ray Liotta), neither of which can contend with their emotional trauma. What’s presented as a police procedural manifests a telling portrait of mental suffering, and how that turns into violent rage. Narc slowly builds its past, with flashbacks set in a pure turn-of-the-millennium, music video-esque montage style. Most of Narc follows that aesthetic to a less extreme degree.

Following close to Training Day, the two films make an interesting duology of corrupt policing, even if neither film attempts to offer a solution, neither for Detroit’s impoverished inner city or the authorities who complain more about lawyers stopping them than realizing the harm they bring. However, Narc’s intelligent flashbacks fill gaps, offering a reason as to why these men lash out as they do. That helps define them, an intelligent slice of character building that’s less exploitation than a film open to conversation.

Narc isn’t comfortable viewing nor should it be. It’s honest in showing the worst elements of the job, from the two-week-old corpse sitting in a moldy bathtub to the apartments rotting from tenants too high to care. Oak’s actions are revolting, and his lack of morality openly terrifying; Tellis doesn’t see a way out unless it’s through Oak, creating a gripping central conflict. Narc works because of its willingness to show violence and its results as much as the numerous reasons for it.


A beautiful new master greets viewers, with a splendid grain structure that resolves flawlessly. While intensity varies, the encode sustains purity. Behind this? Detail, texture, and sharpness galore. Facial definition is stellar even with distance. Worn inner city environments resolve concrete, grass, and general disarray.

Color varies wildly, Narc a film early in the digital grading era and using every opportunity to show as much. From a chilly blue to monochrome teal to satisfying boldness to the flesh tones when at home in warmth, the tonal shifts happen quickly. Arrow’s disc preserves them all.

Brought into the HDR era, this adds more pop. Exaggerated contrast envelopes numerous scenes, blindingly bright in places. This is especially true in flashbacks, the intensity high, crushing blacks and clipping whites by design. The rest sustains the depth and shadow density, with a satisfying gloss to the contrast.


Oddly defaulting to stereo, the disc includes a remastered Dolby Atmos flush with activity. Narc’s ambiance within the city is high, filling the rears effectively. Gunshots echo widely. Heights, if utilized, do so rarely. Mostly, it’s to accentuate gunshots.

A soft, subtle low-end enhancement drives the score primarily.


On the UHD itself, director Joe Carnahan presents a new introduction to the film (all 12-seconds of it), followed by an older commentary featuring Carnahan and his editor, John Gilroy.

On an additional bonus disc, Carnahan returns for freshly filmed interview. That’s followed by additional (and new) interviews with director of photography Alex Nepomniaschy, actor Krista Bridges, and costume designer Gersha Phillips. The rest is made up of older featurettes and EPK extras, plus trailer/image galleries.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

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With a verve purely of the new millennium, Narc is an aggressive take on the cop drama.

User Review
4.33 (3 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 28 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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