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Ultra HD : Must Own
Ranking:
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Release Date: May 21st, 2024 Movie Release Year: 2002

Narc - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Arrow Video Limited Edition

Overview -

4K UHD Review By: Matthew Hartman
With one of the best thrillers of the early 2000s, Joe Carnahan burst onto the scene with
Narc starring Jason Patrick and the late great Ray Liotta. This thrilling piece of Detroitsplitation is a visceral descent into the crime-ridden streets of the Motor City with a stylish script and kinetic camerawork. Now Arrow Video fittingly gives the film a masterful 4K UHD Dolby Vision Transfer, excellent Atmos audio, and hours of new and archival extra features. Must Own

OVERALL:
Must Own
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray + Blu-ray
Video Resolution/Codec:
2160p HEVC/H.265, Dolby Vision HDR / HDR10
Length:
105
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.85:1
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD MA 2.0, Dolby Atmos
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Release Date:
May 21st, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Some filmmakers take it slow and easy, gradually working up a catalog of small films before they break out big. They might start with small features no one ever sees or even work up the ranks through various television projects. Writer/Director Joe Carnahan caught industry eyes with his ultra-low-budget feature, Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane. But it was his follow-up film, the ultra gritty cop thriller Narc that catapulted the young filmmaker into high-profile Hollywood studio features. 22 years later, the film is just as potent and terrifyingly intense remaining one of the best thrillers to come out of the early 2000s. 

Our film opens with Jason Patrick as undercover Detroit Police narcotics officer Nick Tellis pursuing a drug dealer on foot. The chase goes wrong leaving the suspect dead and a pregnant woman shot in the leg. Months later the disgraced officer is faced with the chance to get back into the good graces of the department by helping with the cold-case homicide of a fellow narcotics officer. His only help in the case is the slane officer's mentor and long-time DPD head-breaker, Detective Henry Oak (Ray Liotta). With little evidence to work with, Nick must return to his underworld contacts to understand the truth and find the killers. 

So flat out, full stop, this is one of my favorite films of all time. I was 20 when this hit theaters. I was in my second year of film school, taking writing classes, and just starting to use a camera to shoot my assignments. I was excited to see a film that had been partially shot in Detroit - which was pretty damn rare at that point - and I dug Jason Patrick and Ray Liotta. To this day I remember sitting in the theater with my popcorn, munching away, and then the opening chase started and I don’t think I ate another bite for the rest of the film. I consider it pretty high praise that a film can be so exciting that it makes you forget your snacks! Once I got it on DVD I watched that opening sequence religiously noting edits, and the sound design; everything I could absorb, I did. When I transferred schools to Chicago, I tried recreating that opening scene in a dirty alley - albeit with Elmo and Cookie Monster instead of human street thugs! 

While most of the film was shot in Canada with only a day or two in Detroit, it managed to replicate the gritty vibe and rotting feel of the Motor City. This was a time when the only thing going for the city was the Red Wings winning the Cup, the Pistons were on the rise, but the Tigers were in bad shape and the Lions were stuck under their worst coach in decades. This wasn’t a city you wanted to live in. You came for the games or to work in the Ren Cen and got the hell out of town on 94 West as fast as your car could go. This was when every Devil’s Night, fires would still break out across the city and the abandoned burned-out relics of the '60s race riots still stood. And Narc captured that visceral grit of a dying city in every frame. 

A fellow Michigander, writer/director Joe Carnahan used Detroit like Friedkin used New York in The French Connection. The film doesn’t highlight the beautiful downtown area or hang out at the stadiums (even though one shot features the lovely old Tiger Stadium). It’s about the places “good” folks just didn’t go. It was the best place to set a story about two detectives who ultimately work on different sides of the law. 

A great location or setting doesn’t always make a movie great. It helps, but it’s ultimately up to how well-written are the characters and the story. Narc excels at both. Each character is richly drawn and interesting without having to resort to saving cats to bring out their inner personalities. From the first minutes, we know a lot about Jason Patrick’s Nick Tellis and what drives him forward in this case. Within seconds of meeting Ray Liotta’s Henry Oak, we know everything there is to know about a man willing to bend the law to dispense justice and find the people responsible for killing his friend. But what also makes this film great is it’s a story about consequences. Every choice costs something.

For Nick, the cost is the strained relationship with his wife Audrey (Krista Bridges). She’s seen him at his worst after his deep undercover work and can’t follow him down that path again. Bridges doesn't get many scenes, but she’s excellent in each one and is the real heart of this film about the nuances of morality and choices. For Oak, he’s already lost everything. His wife is gone, and now his friend is dead. It’s about how far he will go and whether he’s willing to lose his soul. Both lead actors turn in dynamite performances. Jason Patrick has always been an intense performer (it’s in the genes), but he really brought it for this film. And as Carnahan says in his interview for this set, there wouldn’t be Narc without Ray Liotta. This is one of his career highlight performances and he certainly deserved far more award recognition than what came his way. 

Carnahan has done some great movies since Narc, but this is the film that I always come back to. Chalk up my love to impressionability when I saw it if you want, but I think it’s an excellent showcase of talent in front of and behind the camera. Visually arresting, the script is well drawn with complex characters and exciting plot developments. It keeps you on the edge of your seat to the very end. Whenever I watch it, I don’t bother with food because to this day I know I’m not going to touch it. 

Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray 
Narc comes to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray thanks to Arrow Video for its first domestic release in any HD format. The film is also coming to 1080p Blu-ray from Arrow as well, but in a separate edition. There is no 1080p HD disc for this release. We were only supplied with check discs to review. When we have hands on a retail copy we’ll update this portion. The 4K feature is pressed on a BD-100 disc with a BD-50 supplying the bonus features. Each disc loads to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. 

Note: At publishing, we've only been able to source images from Arrow's 1080p Blu-ray, when we can, we aim to update the review with 4K-sourced images and if possible a video sample. 

Video Review

Ranking:

It’s almost shocking to me how long it’s taken for Narc to get a release better than DVD release here in the States. I get it, it wasn’t a huge money maker at the time but there’ve been some outright bombs that got Blu-ray and 4K releases by now! Thanks to Arrow Video that wrong is finally corrected with one hell of a fantastic Dolby Vison transfer. Alex Nepomniaschy’s photography always had a very striking blue-toned pallet. Some could argue that it put James Cameron to shame, but it works beautifully for this story. Arrow seems to have retimed some of the color for the HDR grade a little bit so the blue isn’t quite so intensely BLUE, I mean, it's still very blue but has a bit more range in the shading leading to some more natural skin tones. We Michiganders aren’t known for our tans, but we also don’t look like death standing. The imagery perfectly evokes Southeast Michigan in the dead of winter. 

From the jump, the improvement in fine details in facial features, clothing textures, and the grimy dirty production design is immediately noticeable. My only basis for comparison was the pretty good Blu-ray that came with Imprint’s After Dark: Neo Noir Cinema Vol 2 collection out of Australia. The other aspect I noted for the bright flashes to Tellis’ former undercover drug-busting days, those hot whites are tamped back a little bit letting more lighting and detail nuance to come through and you can actually see some things clearer. Black levels are spot on, nice and deep inky but shadows enjoy subtle gradience. I was really impressed with the sense of depth and dimension in the image and film grain is appropriately present throughout. It was always a gritty movie so that hasn’t been scrubbed away clean. All around a pretty much flawless transfer for this film.

Now we also got a check disc for the 1080p Blu-ray and I’ll say that it too is very, very good. I favor the 4K, so if you're rigged for the format that's where the money should go, but if that 1080p disc was all that came our way I’d still gladly snap it up. The Imprint Blu-ray that came out in that 2022 box set was pretty good, but it also felt like an older master, the details were a bit crunchier with some signs of edge enhancement. This new restoration effort does away with that issue leaving clean crisp details. The image has been reframed a bit (as evidenced by the video above), not sure as to why that is, but there isn't a lot of loss or gain in framing one way or the other. 

Audio Review

Ranking:

On the audio side, Narc runs away with a pair of excellent audio options - a DTS-HD MA 2.0 track and then an absolutely fantastic Atmos mix. Of the two, Atmos is the way to go if you’re so rigged up at home. As I’ve said before, that opening chase sets the stage for the film and the Atmos is a terrific counterpart moving in between wide open spaces and tight hallways. When gunfire goes off it’s impactful and echoes around the soundscape beautifully. Even during the film’s many quiet conversational sequences, enough background effects is going on that surround channels remain active and there are enough atmospheric effects that height channels see plenty of attention. There’s not a lot of distinct overhead action, but between echo effects, weather sounds, and other atmospheric elements they’re not used just to make the mix sound spacious. LFE is terrific letting the excellent score from Cliff Martinez add some extra rumble to the subs along with all the crashing doors and gunfire. All around a terrific mix. I did sample some key scenes with the 2.0 track and it is very good if that’s the way you roll. You won’t be disappointed there, but the bigger, better, more impactful experience is with Atmos. 4.5/5

Special Features

Ranking:

Arrow has done a fantastic job bringing a full collection of new and archival extra features for this film. We have the excellent archival commentary and the old featurettes and uncut EPK interviews but then we have over an hour of new interviews with Carnahan, DP Alex Nepomiaschy, actress Krista Bridges, and costume designer Gersha Phillips. Carnahan is particularly nice to hear from and very appreciative of the experience but also gives a lot of time highlighting his cast while significantly focusing on Ray Liotta. All told you have almost six hours plus commentary time of great material to pick through once the show’s over.

4K UHD Disc

  • Archival Audio Commentary featuring Joe Carnahan and editor John Gilroy

Bonus Disc

  • Shattering the Blue Line: Joe Carnahan on Narc (HD 13:42)
  • Shooting Narc: Alex Nepomiaschy’s Vision (HD 10:06)
  • If You Live Another Day: An Interview with Krista Bridges (HD 16:20)
  • The Journey of the Costume: An Interview with Gersha Phillips (HD 18:31)
  • Archival Featurettes:
    • Making the Deal (SD 13:20)
    • The Visual Trip (SD 13:02)
    • The Friedkin Connection (SD 9:50)
    • Shooting Up (SD 19:26)
  • EPK Interviews:
    • Joe Carnahan - Shoot Interview (SD 31:41)
    • Joe Carnahan - Edit Interview (SD 1:11:09)
    • Diane Nabatoff (SD 21:52)
    • Alex Nepomniaschy (SD 18:03)
    • Ray Liotta - Shoot Interview (SD 28:30)
    • Ray Liotta - Edit Interview (SD 22:47)
    • Jason Patric (SD 15:31)
    • William Friedkin (SD 36:04)
  • Trailer
  • Image Gallery

Narc still stands as one of the most exciting movie-going experiences. Few films had that kind of an impact on me and inspired me with how I wrote stories or observed and obsessed over filmmaking style. The other was The Crow, and it’s so wild to have both of these movies coming to 4K in the same year! That said, Narc is the movie I have to fully stop and dig in to watch it. Can’t have anything else going, so I don’t get to watch it as often as I’d like, but every time I do it packs a punch. Now Arrow Video resurrects this thrilling piece of Detroitsploitation to 4K UHD and it’s glorious. The new Dolby Vision transfer is about as flawless as it gets for a low-budget early 2000s thriller and that Atmos mix really brings the intensity of the film to your living room. Add an excellent collection of bonus features in the set, it’s damn easy to call this one Must Own

Order Your Copy of Narc on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray