Narc is a 2002 crime film about corrupt police involved in the illegal drug trade. It was released to critical acclaim and moderate commercial success. It was written and directed by Joe Carnahan. The plot centers around the efforts of two police detectives as they search for the murderer of an undercover police officer. As they proceed in the investigation they engage in suspect tactics and give viewers a glimpse into the seedy side of undercover work.
The film opens with an intense scene of undercover narcotics officer Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) chasing a drug dealer through the streets of Detroit after his identity has been discovered. After the dealer fatally injects a bystander with drugs (whom Tellis was forced to leave behind), he holds a young child hostage. Tellis manages to shoot and kill the dealer before he can hurt the child. However, one of the bullets inadvertently hits the child's pregnant mother, causing her to eventually miscarry. Eighteen months later, Tellis is persuaded by the Detroit Police Department to return to the force to investigate the murder of another undercover narcotics officer, Michael Calvess. Tellis is reluctant, as his wife disapproves of him risking his life, and she wants him to spend more time at home with their baby. However, realizing there is very little else he can do for a living, he decides to read the files on the case and eventually agrees to come aboard, on two conditions. The first is that he will receive a desk job at the station if he secures a conviction. The second is that another detective, veteran Henry Oak (Ray Liotta), whom Tellis becomes aware of through reading the investigation files on Calvess' death, is assigned to the case as well. Tellis' reason for wanting Oak is his opinion after reading the files that the only useful pieces in the investigation thus far came from him. Tellis is also informed by the department chief about Oak's reputation as a driven and effective policeman who is also unstable. Despite reservations, Oak is assigned to the case. The two begin to build rapport while carrying out a violent investigation. Here we learn that Oak is a dedicated, although haunted cop who uses an excessive amount of violent force when facing criminals. Oak also believes that the department just wants the case buried and forgotten. During the investigation, Oak reveals that his wife died of cancer, and that they never had any children together. He recalls a drug bust decades prior, where he found a ten year old girl naked, who had been sold for prostitution by her stepfather for rent money. Oak became enraged and beat the man to a bloody pulp. He sees that case as being similar to the current one. Meanwhile, Tellis' wife becomes increasingly distressed for her husband's well-being. Tellis visits Calvess's widow Kathryn, and asks her questions about the relationship between the two of them while he was on the street, hoping to make a decision about his own private life. Oak turns up at the house during the conversation, and is furious that she is being persistently interviewed by police. He seems increasingly protective of Kathryn and her children's safety. Tellis and Oak visit the scene of an apparent murder of a drug dealer and gun collector, who was shot dead in his bath. Tellis discovers the bullet had no fire-pin mark, and he surmises that the man was using it as a bong and forgot that it was loaded. Once heated, the shotgun discharged, killing the drug user. After determining that this lead is fruitless, Tellis and Oak visit the house of a man who was involved in the shootout eighteen months ago that started the film. They find incriminating evidence, but nothing concrete that suggests he carried out the murder of Calvess, although they do find the police badge of Calvess. However, the man impulsively turns a gun on them both, wounding Tellis in the neck, before Oak kills him in self-defense. Returning home, Tellis is confronted by his wife, who leaves him as she can no longer bear to see him endangering his life. Tellis and Oak are told that the case has been closed, as the deceased suspect is quickly and conveniently determined to be Calvess's killer. They are furious, as they believe the killer has yet to be found, and continue their investigation independently. Oak determines that the main suspects are hiding out at an auto body shop. Once there, Oak finds and disarms one suspect while Tellis chases one outside and shoots him in the leg. After they are both tied up, Oak attempts to force a confession out of both of them. Tellis is getting increasingly suspicious of some of Oak's tactics, especially after viewing many files that suggest Oak had been repeatedly discharging a lady who has been arrested on several occasions. Oak finds many police issue guns in the trunk of one of the men's cars (after he shoots the tires on the other's car), including that which belonged to Calvess, and attacks both men violently, at which point Tellis steps in to calm him down and tells him to get CSI tools from the car outside. When he leaves the room, Tellis locks the door, turns on the tape recorder, and asks for the truth. The dealers explain that Calvess was the one who blew Tellis' cover eighteen months ago (seen at the start of the film), causing the shootout. They also recount Calvess's degeneration into chemical dependency. On the day of the murder, Calvess tried to make a deal with the two dealers, but it went badly. At that point, Oak arrived at the other end of the tunnel, trailing Calvess to confirm rumors that he had become an addict. Calvess went for his weapon, which was the dealers' justification for attacking him. The two men then ran off as Oak neared and began firing at them. Tellis leaves the room and confronts Oak, telling him that the dealers claim that Oak shot at both of them four times, leaving a wound on one dealer's shoulder, before murdering Calvess himself for being a drug addict. Oak denies this, but the issue of his relationship with Calvess's wife Kathryn is then brought up. As it turns out, Kathryn was the ten year old girl Oak found all those years ago who was being prostituted. Based on Oak's earlier accounts, he considers her a daughter he never had, and has remained close all this time. He has since been protecting her by covering up several crimes that she committed in her teenage years. Tellis then tells Oak that he is going to make the arrest on his own, but Oak beats him with his shotgun and resumes brutalizing the dealers. He turns the tape recorder back on and attempts to beat a confession out of the two men, while threatening to shoot them. Tellis breaks into their car, retrieves a gun, and enters the building. He is forced to shoot Oak when he refuses to put his gun down. Tellis runs to aid Oak and, realizing he's dying, pleads with him to tell him the truth about what happened on the night Calvess died. Oak explains (silently, shown in flashback) that it was Calvess who shot at the dealers as they ran away from Oak, leaving the shoulder bullet wound. Oak had an argument with him, explaining that he had finally had enough of defending Calvess and was going to turn him in to the Department. In a moment of despair, Calvess took his own gun and shot himself in Oak's presence. Oak had been protecting his name and family ever since, so Calvess' wife can have his pension and support her two daughters. If the Department found it was a suicide instead of a murder, Calvess' wife would not have received the pension. Oak's motive in the movie was to convict Mike's "murderers," the dealers who he felt had turned him into a junkie. Oak then dies in Tellis's arms, leaving the confession on tape. The two dealers are arrested outside, and Tellis has a few minutes to decide whether to hand the tape over to the police, a decision we never discover as the film's closing credits roll.