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Narc - Special feature



Story by: Jack Foley

IT has the high-profile backing of Tom Cruise and became a pet project for its Goodfellas star, Ray Liotta, but, incredibly, Joe Carnahan’s critically-acclaimed Narc almost never got made.

Writer/director Carnahan is one of the first to admit that the arduous journey of making the film was like seeing a phoenix rising from the flames. Yet the trip has been worth it.

Narc, which tells the story of a suspended undercover narcotics officer’s attempts to expose the truth behind the slaying of another officer, took the Special Prize Policier Award at the Cognac Film Festival in France, was nominated for the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002 and has earned Liotta an Oscar shot.

Inspired by the critically-acclaimed documentary, The Thin Blue Line, about the actual slaying of a Dallas police officer in 1976, Carnahan’s film was first developed as a short, entitled Gun Point, before being developed further by the talented young writer, who developed a fascination for the subject.

Yet had it not been for Liotta and, subsequently, Cruise, audiences may still have been deprived of a genuine classic, a gritty urban cop thriller to rival the likes of Serpico and The French Connection.

"Ray Liotta really pulled it from the ashes," confesses Carnahan, alluding to how the actor ‘went to bat’ to get it financed. And even then, the production proved problematic.

Producer, Diane Nabatoff, explains: "Two weeks into filming, we were told we had no money. Because of a delay in paperwork, our bank loan did not come through on time.

"As we tried to piece together enough to make payroll each week, we were constantly on the verge of shutting down. Ray, Jason [Patric], Joe and I all deferred our salaries and, thankfully, the crew hung in there with us until the end."

It was at this stage that Carnahan approached Tom Cruise, who, having been aware of the project, was more than happy to oblige. Together with Paula Wagner, of Cruise/Wagner Productions, the two provided the financial support needed to complete the project.

The Mission Impossible star states: "I enjoy movies, not just making them, but watching them as well. I also enjoy helping other filmmakers, especially those as dedicated to the art of filmmaking as Joe Carnahan.

"When I saw Narc for the first time, I was struck by the raw intensity - the almost voyeuristic approach Joe took in telling this story.

"Ray Liotta and Jason Patric are a powerhouse team and they play off of each other so beautifully that I forgot I was watching a film. Joe’s use of their combined talents to drive the story is nothing short of brilliant. It’s a thrill for me to be lending my support to this project."

Making the film appear ‘real’

Shooting for 27 days in the dead of winter at different locations off the beaten path in Toronto, Carnahan and his crew spent 10 of those days working primarily on the last scene in the movie, in which the mystery finally unfolds.

Set in an actual chop shop that, according to Nabatoff, hit 16 degrees below zero, the intense scene was complete with actual grime dripping from the cieling that the production crew did not have to manufacture.

For on-set advisor, NYPD Detective Todd Merritt, this attention to detail was essential. Merritt, who has been with the police force since 1986 and on the narcotics squad for the past nine years, has been undercover himself on many occasions, chasing down suspected drug dealers and junkies through the back streets of the Big Apple.

Today, he sets up drug deals and sends in the team of undercover Narc officers that he supervises to make the buys.

"My job as advisor on the film was to get the actor’s head into the game," he explains. "I explained the psychology of what it means to be a narc and discussed tactics and body language.

"In the end, I think the film as a whole turned out absolutely great and I found it to be very believable from beginning to end."

Merritt adds that he also felt that the family life depicted in Narc was close to the truth, adding: "Most undercover cops are paranoid because, while they may be working from the right side of the fence, they’re doing it from the wrong side of the fence, and they think that at any minute they’re going to be found out.

"That has an effect on their home life. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of wives act just the way Nick Tellis’ wife acts in the film - scared."

The issue of narcs actually getting addicted themselves is another aspect of the film which mirrors real life.

"An undercover will try to talk his way out of having to ingest anything, but sometimes it can’t be helped," maintains Merritt. "When it does happen, an officer immediately reports the incident and can be removed from active duty for up to a month.

"In the case of an officer getting addicted, it’s different from state to state. For example, in New York, an addicted officer is immediately suspended and that’s it. But in Detroit, where this film is set, they have rehab centres where they send narcs who get themselves in too deep."

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