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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Narc 4K UHD Review

Arrow Video

4K UHD Release: May 21, 2024

Video: 1.85:1/2160p (HDR10/Dolby Vision)/Color

Audio: English Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0

Subtitles: English SDH

Run Time: 105:12

Director: Joe Carnahan

In wintry Detroit, narcotics cop Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) is recovering from an undercover operation gone wrong. In the hopes of being assigned a quiet desk job, he agrees to return to active duty and partner up with Detective Henry Oak (Ray Liotta) to investigate the apparent murder of Oak's former partner. As both men become lost in the depths of the case, boundaries become blurred and their relationship begins to vacillate between intensely personal and unsettlingly suspicious. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

During the early ‘00s, many popular filmmakers turned to the stylistic grit and moral ambiguity of the 1970s to cinematically express the shared cultural angst brought about by the 9/11 attacks and ensuing military invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. This was most apparent in the field of horror, where remakes, like Marcus Nispel’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes (2006), and vicious throwbacks, like Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) and Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects (2005), were surprise box office hits. But crime cinema also revisited the ‘70s era of New Hollywood thrillers, recreating the verite intensity and, again, moral ambiguity of William Friedkin’s French Connection (1971), Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry (1971), and Sidney Lumet’s Serpico (1973). 

The long term effect of this movement was arguably negative, leading to a glut of interchangeable, unintelligible shaky-cam soup at the end of the decade and early part of the 2010s, but the immediate effect was pretty fresh, especially following the slick cop blockbusters of the 1990s. Joe Carnahan’s Narc (2002) wasn’t the first of its kind, but it took the visual and tone to a raw extreme and is a perfect example of how refreshing this kind of throwback felt at the time. Carnahan pitched the film as an homage to French Connection and Serpico, and even had backing from Friedkin himself, who did an interview for the film's electronic press kit (available with this collection). The look is still very early ‘00s, especially the editing techniques (there’s definitely a heavy Requiem for a Dream [2000] influence) and high contrast, silver nitrate look, but the feel is there.

Separated from its place in the post-9/11, ‘70s aesthetic movement, Narc does tend to sacrifice storytelling for vibes. It’s not that the narrative is undercooked or lacking drive, but that, in paying homage to familiar genre tropes, the whole thing ends up a bit too boilerplate in service of its climactic twists and Rashomon plot device (apparently, Carnahan originally planned Narc as a short subject, which might explain the strength of the climax and listlessness of the middle acts). Its themes of police corruption are potent, but doesn’t have much new to say about the nature of undercover investigation (I suspect a substantial lack of authenticity in regards to the actual procedure, but don’t believe a cop drama necessarily has to be realistic to be good). It doesn’t help that the film’s Sundance premiere occurred about three months after Antoine Fuqua’s more mainstream-friendly Training Day (2001) and only about five months ahead of the first episode of David Simon’s The Wire (2002), which ended up overshadowing basically all other crime fiction for the remainder of the decade. Fortunately, those aforementioned vibes are bolstered by fantastic, intense, yet sympathetic performances, fronted by Jason Patric (in a career-best turn) and Ray Liotta as the physical embodiments of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Narc was Carnahan’s first studio-financed picture, following the independently produced Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane (1998). His filmography is populated by similar action and crime films, though usually with a more comedic edge, and by the fact that very few of them were box office hits. Fortunately, he also cultivated a loyal fanbase with his patented mix of ‘70s grit and ‘00s bombast.


Narc was released on pan & scan 1.33:1 and anamorphic 1.85:1 DVDs in 2003. Surprisingly, it never had an official North American Blu-ray release, though there was an HD transfer available via streaming and digital rental services, as well as a 2008 German Blu-ray disc (much more recently, in 2022, Australian company Via Vision also put out a BD). Arrow’s 4K UHD and same day Blu-ray feature a new 4K remaster of the original 35mm negative. I still cannot get screencaps from a UHD, but I have included images from the Blu-ray copy for illustrative purposes. This is a perfect representation of what Carnahan and cinematographer Alex Nepomniaschy were going for: raw grain texture, super-sharp close-up details, deep, hard-edged shadows, and a cool overall tint. Greens and reds stand out as needed, but almost everything else is some variation of blue or violet. The Dolby Vision/HDR helps punch up the highlights and further deepen those rich black levels, while the 2160p upgrade further sharpens the textures and shaves some of the chunkiness off of the grain.


Narc is presented with newly remixed Dolby Atmos and uncompressed DTS-HD MA stereo audio options. It’s not a super aggressive film in terms of its stereo and surround design with emphasis on the range between soft, quiet contemplation and rough, noisy gunshots and foot chases. The Atmos remix offers a nice, dynamic mix of stylization and naturalism, though it can’t completely correct the issue of actors whispering their way through dialogue. Steven Soderberg and Nicolas Winding Refn’s favorite composer Cliff Martinez’ moody score is a really special part of the film, though it, too, is almost indecipherably soft at moments. When it comes to the fore, like it does for the multi-panel montage sequence or percussion-heavy climax, it has plenty of punch, along with the diegetic hip-hop heard throughout (it always cuts my suspension of disbelief a bit to have Busta Rhymes’ character listening to actual Busta Rhymes music).


Disc 1 (4K UHD)

  • Commentary with Joe Carnahan and editor John Gilroy – This is the original 2003 DVD commentary. The tone is light-hearted and personable, despite the film itself being so bleak, and there’s little downtime during the discussion.

  • 2024 introduction from Joe Carnahan

Disc 2 (Blu-ray)

  • Shattering the Blue Line: Joe Carnahan on Narc (13:42, HD) – In the first Arrow exclusive 2024 interview, the director chats about his inspirations, the short film script that built into Narc, working with Liotta, Patric, and the rest of the cast (including the baby), and various creative choices.

  • Shooting Narc: Alex Nepomniaschy’s Vision (10:06, HD) – The cinematographer explores the techniques he developed making documentaries and combining them with Carnahan’s ideas to create the film’s (then) unique look in this audio interview.

  • If You Live Another Day: An Interview with Krista Bridges (16:20, HD) – The lead actress talks about casting, developing her character, rehearsals, and working with Patric. 

  • The Journey of the Costume: An Interview with Gersha Phillips (18:31, HD) – The new stuff is closed out with the costume designer looking back on her early career, breaking into the industry, creating the Narc wardrobe, research, and collaborating with the cast & crew.

  • Archival DVD featurettes

  • Making the Deal (13:20, SD) – A general promotional featurette that includes cast & crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

  • The Visual Trip (13:02, SD) – A look at the film’s style.

  • The Friedkin Connection (9:50, SD) – William Friedkin discusses seeing Narc before its official release and how it differs from The French Connection.

  • Shooting Up (19:26, SD) – A longer look at the making of the film.

  • EPK interviews

  • Joe Carnahan shoot interview (31:41, SD)

  • Joe Carnahan edit interview (71:09, SD)

  • Diane Nabatoff (21:52, SD)

  • Alex Nepomniaschy (18:03, SD)

  • Ray Liotta shoot interview (28:30, SD)

  • Ray Liotta edit interview (22:47, SD)

  • Jason Patric (15:31, SD)

  • William Friedkin (36:04, SD)

  • Trailer

  • Image gallery

The images on this page are taken from the included BD – NOT the 4K UHD – and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.



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