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 Carnahans critically-acclaimed Narc almost never got
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
officers 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,
Carnahans 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
"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. Joes use of their combined talents to drive
the story is nothing short of brilliant. Its 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 actors
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, theyre doing it from the wrong
side of the fence, and they think that at any minute theyre
going to be found out.
"That has an effect on their home life. In fact, Ive
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 cant 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, its
different from state to state. For example, in New York, an addicted
officer is immediately suspended and thats it. But in Detroit,
where this film is set, they have rehab centres where they send
narcs who get themselves in too deep."