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MORIARTY Blows The Whistle On Joe Carnahan's Staggeringly Good NARC!! Looks Ahead To WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

I guess the theme for this week so far for me is introductions. I consider Kurt Wimmer’s EQUILIBRIUM to be an introduction to an action filmmaker I expect to be hearing from on a significant level in the future, and I also consider Joe Carnahan’s NARC to be an announcement of a pretty major talent, a guy who is able to take the police procedural and imbue it with a very real, very honest soul. I haven’t seen Carnahan’s first film, and I don’t need to before I say this: he is a director of considerable weight right now, and whatever he does in the future deserves our full attention.

NARC opens with a scene that literally grabs you by the shirtfront and shakes you, a shotgun blast of energy to the face that plunges us headlong into the world of Nick Tellis, played with laser sharp focus by the magnificent Jason Patric. Tellis is chasing someone, a guy who is out of control. The guy attacks someone, stabs them in the neck with a syringe, actually injects them with something. By the time Nick reaches the guy, he’s foaming at the mouth, shaking, well on his way to dead. Nick chases the guy down, a hostage is taken, and the inevitable tragedy unfolds. It’s a matter of seconds. A few choices. You can practically feel the adrenaline jumping in your own jugular during the scene. There’s more here, but I don’t want to spoil it, even if it is the first five or ten minutes. All I’ll say is that by the time the main title came up on screen... NARC... I felt like I’d already seen one complete film. In simple strokes, Carnahan creates enormous sympathy for Nick, and he’s helped by Patric, who hasn’t been this good in a long time. I’m a giant fan of this brooding, erratically great actor. In particular, I think his early ‘90s work in AFTER DARK, MY SWEET and Lili Fini Zanuck’s criminally underrated RUSH is as good as it gets. He finally puts himself back in the game in a big way with his work here. Tellis is a man whose world literally almost kills him, and he is lucky enough to have a wife and a child, a life worth living, something to pull him out of his own terrible tailspin.

In fact, it just struck me as I’m sitting here, thinking back on the film. The last time I fell for the lead in a police procedural the way I did here was SE7EN. In that film, Mills (Brad Pitt) was looking to make his name in a major city. It was everything he wanted, the case he found himself working, and that ambition on his part is what leads to his eventual ruin. Here, we meet a character who got to that same point, but who somehow survived his moment of truth. He came through to the other side, and now he’s rebuilt his life into something in which he can finally find peace. With both Mills and Tellis, as I watch the movies, I find myself just aching for them, wishing they could escape alive and intact, desperately afraid they won’t.

Tellis gets called back in to help with a case. It’s a desk job. No undercover. Nothing on the streets. It’s just supposed to be him looking at files. There’s a cop who’s dead, Michael Calvess, and the whole goddamn case is a dead end. And he’s not just working to clear the case. There’s problems. For example, there’s Henry Oak (Ray Liotta, in a performance that goes toe to toe with Patric’s for control of the film), partner to the dead man, chomping at the bit for some sort of retribution against someone. He wants to figure out who killed Calvess, and he wants to hurt him. Or them. Whoever it has to be.

Carnahan is making a cop movie. If you know your cop movies, you’re going to recognize the broad strokes here. Chi McBride shows up as the Captain that puts Oak and Tellis together, hoping something will happen that will put the death of Calvess to rest. It’s a very simple, very direct engine for the story. Tellis can’t help himself. He digs because he’s good at it. He puts his family aside and plunges headlong into the case because it’s what he does. I’m terrified of portraits of workaholics. I think my father is a bit of a workaholic, but he always found a balance that seemed to work. I’m terrible at finding that balance. A very dear friend of mine got in touch with me the other day, offended because of how long it’s been since we’ve spoken, and there was no excuse I could offer her. I just get wrapped up in what I do, and I vanish down the rabbit hole. Patric plays it perfectly, and the dissolution of this fragile haven he built for himself is the film’s single most affecting element, handled almost offhand, inevitable as it is sad after a point.

What makes the film special, and what makes it a real contender in my book for end of the year recognition, is the performance work overall. Carnahan’s script gives a lot of room to his actors, and the film’s ultimate success depends upon us investing in the struggle between these two men of equally strong wills. Tellis begins to despise where the clues in the Calvess case are leading him, and he still can’t let it go. He rides it out to the end that he’s afraid is coming, but he does what he was brought in to do. He puts it together. He wraps it up. The cost is something that he’ll have to think about after. When I first saw the film, I thought the conclusion was almost anti-climactic, but it’s settled in well with me. I think it’s told in the way it needs to be told for this film to connect with an audience in any sort of wide way. I hope people are willing to take this incredibly difficult ride in the midst of the holiday season. I think word of mouth is going to be very strong as people find themselves dizzy at the furious pace of the movie, the relentless energy of the thing. Cliff Martinez has turned in one of his most impressive scores to date with this film. It’s affecting, simple work, but it really gives Tellis a soul. The score says all the things Tellis can’t bring himself to say or show or do. Alex Nepomniaschy, who also shot Todd Haynes’s brilliant SAFE, has done a great job of giving Carnahan’s vision an elegant sense of decay around the edges. It’s beautifully photographed, and makes the most of its bleak locations. I don’t know the previous work of editor John Gilroy at all, but he did an incredible job. It’s work that reminds me of the exceptional work Anne Coates and Sarah Flack did with Steven Soderbergh on OUT OF SIGHT and THE LIMEY, respectively. NARC is adrift in time a bit, but there’s a great sense of control in the way Carnahan pulls it off.

I first heard of NARC earlier this year, when Scott Frank was telling me about it. Evidently, Harrison Ford saw the film and fell in love with it. So much so, in fact, that Carnahan was hired to direct A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, a project that Ford and Frank were working to develop. I read the script back at the start of the year, but then I picked it up and read it again after I finally got a chance to see NARC, because now I had an idea what he might be bringing to the table in bringing the script to life. Reading it with different eyes like that, I’m fascinated by the choice for all involved.

The film is based on a novel by Lawrence Block. If you aren’t familiar with his work, then I recommend you just randomly pick up ANYTHING by him and educate yourself. He’s a damn fine mystery writer, and several of his books focus on Matthew Scudder. Well, WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES is one of the Scudder books. Anything you’d need to know about Matthew Scudder is here in this film. There have been other attempts to bring him to the bigscreen. EIGHT MILLION WAYS TO DIE was the fifth of the books, and was adapted by Oliver Stone into a script that Hal Ashby made a very strange and fairly bad film out of. This is based on the tenth of the books actually, and when we meet Scudder (the role Harrison Ford will play, obviously), he’s in AA already, telling his story by rote about how he shot a perp while drunk and how he left the force. He’s not officially a private investigator. License issues of some sort. Instead, he’s willing to occasionally do things for friends, who normally are so grateful they give him gifts. Those “friends,” of course, tend to be people who give very generous gifts.

I dare Harrison Ford to play the role the way it’s written. Scudder is a dark soul, probably the darkest Ford’s been attached to play since THE MOSQUITO COAST. Ford is smart enough to look at NARC and know he wants to be in that sort of film, and the worst thing that could happen here would be for him to make the studio version of the film. Don’t trap Joe Carnahan behind the wheel of some $85 million DEVIL’S OWN-style compromise. Turn him loose to shoot this script fast and dirty, and go for the ride with him. I’m literally tired of having the conversation about how Harrison Ford plays it safe. This project isn’t some glib little caper picture. It’s horrible and sad and filled with some of the darkest corners I’ve turned down in a mainstream script in a long time. A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES seems to me to be a script that Scott Frank needed to write. All the way back to DEAD AGAIN, he’s had an obvious infatuation with the mystery genre. Now, here, he’s taken the story of a series of murders and kidnappings involving the loved ones of drug traffickers and turned it into a surprisingly moving story about the way we find attachments even in the worst of circumstances, and the way those small moments of light can somehow make all the shit and the horror and the pain somehow bearable. It’s darker than Frank’s previous work, but it works because his trademark humanity is turned up to high.

I wish Paramount well with NARC this holiday season, but more importantly, I want to urge you not to let the larger ad campaigns overwhelm this little gem. Don’t go in expecting some GIANT LIFECHANGING EVENT here. I’m not trying to hype you up too much. What Joe Carnahan has done is make a confident, stylish movie that establishes him as one of the most intelligent, tasteful new directors out there. He’s like a jazz musician who sits down with guys twice his age and plays classic licks right off the bat. You know he knows his shit. You just have to watch any ten minutes of this film to see that. Taken as a whole, this sounds like an announcement to me, and with the opportunity he’s got ahead, I’m betting his name is going to be bandied about hotly, and deservedly, by film fans in the years ahead.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 30, 2002, 4:04 a.m. CST

    Lawrence Block's 'Martin Ehrengraf' stories would make the most

    by Cash Bailey

    If done right A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES will be Ford's best role since PRESUMED INNOCENT. He will actually have to play an honest-to-God character for once.

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 4:05 a.m. CST

    very nice

    by Mithrandir98

    I was a little skeptical about NARC even after seeing the trailer for it. I haven't seen a helluva lot of cop films, but this seems right down my, and my film buddies, alley. I shall pass the word. Another good review by Mr. Pink Shoes. First?

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 5:42 a.m. CST

    You know why we'll be hearing from Kurt Wimmer in the future...

    by Monkey Lover

    ... Because Moriarty said one time in the AICN chatroom how he wants Revolution Studios to get him for POSTHUMAN.

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 5:49 a.m. CST

    I Should Be So Lucky

    by drew mcweeny

    I've got a whole list of directors I'd like to see do my film, Monkey Lover. Kurt Wimmer... hell, yeah. The guy knows his action. Chris Cunningham is another of those names I'll shamelessly pimp at the drop of a hat, and I'd encourage anyone to check out his retrospective this coming Sunday at the Egyptian. I'd like to see someone who maybe isn't quite so established yet, somebody who hasn't gotten complacent about the way they shoot action yet. One of the reasons I was enthusiastic about EQUILIBRIUM yesterday is because watching those action scenes was a real inspiration for me. But remember... in the end... I'm just a writer. And what I want probably won't count for much if the studio wants something else. Until they make their minds up, it's all just idle chat...

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 5:51 a.m. CST

    What do you mean it's just like jazz?! Do you mean it's annoying

    by chuckrussel

    'nuff said!

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 6:54 a.m. CST

    Kurt Wimmer.

    by Psyclops

    If EQUILIBRIUM is half as good as Moriarty makes it sound then I wouldn't blame him for wanting to snag Kurt Wimmer as the director of POSTHUMAN. Hey,... what does 'Posthuman' mean?

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 8:56 a.m. CST

    I have to say....

    by Axel Foley

    ...nobody on this site can hype me up to want to see a movie like Moriarty can. I'm almost afraid to read his reviews for fear of disappointment. Like the disappointment I experienced during Episode II.

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 8:57 a.m. CST


    by talbuckin

    saw it a Sitges. Not really big deal. Not bad, not good. Just in the middle of nothing. Some really boring stuff we all have already seen. married police-I have to do one last case-but you promised you wouldnt-yes I know but I have to do it-fuck yourself you are lier husband-wife thing. nothing really new in the whole film. is not an insult but is not a present.

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 1:12 p.m. CST

    Block and Westlake

    by spoony_g

    Hopefully Block's Scudder doesn't suffer the same fate as done to his buddy Donald Westlake, with Dortmunder or (Stark) Parker. "Payback" was an OK movie, but a horrible adaption of the novel, "The Hunter". And the less said about "What's the Worse That Could Happen?", the better. Both writers have had the studios mess up their characters on many occasions (anyone remember Whoopi in "Burglar"?).

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 7:29 p.m. CST

    Narc, Tombstones

    by Silvio Dante

    Of course, Jason Patric is the only actor who managed to out-Keanu Keanu Reeves in Speed 2. Talk about wooden. Scott Frank - the crime guy! He knows how to write that stuff. Hopefully (and probably) he does better job than Stone and David Lee Henry on 8MW2D. Even Robert Towne couldn't save that one.

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 8:01 p.m. CST

    Harrison Ford as Matt Scudder?

    by Jimmy Jazz

    Yeah I can see that. Whatever Frank and this Carnahan guy have cooking has got to be an improvement over that crappy Eight Million Ways to Die movie. One of the greatest PI novels ever turned to Hollywood slop. Scudder in LA? WTF? If Walk Among the Tombstones is successful, perhaps these guys could adapt Dennis Lehane's Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro Series. Gone, Baby, Gone would make a kick ass flick. Brad Pitt would be perfect for Kenzie. anyone have any suggestions for Angie?

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 8:27 p.m. CST

    Never mind Angie...

    by Silvio Dante

    who would play Bubba? And how about filming some Janet Evanovich already, Hollywood?

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 9:35 p.m. CST

    how did Ford play it safe in What Lies Beneath?

    by Tall_Boy

    I didn't dig the flick but I did like how Ford was all evil at the end. its one of the more interesting choices that he's done in his career.

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 10:41 p.m. CST

    How do you spell entertainment?

    by Margot Tenenbaum

    C is for Carnage, A is for Action, R is for Radical, N is for Nudity, A is for Awesome, H is for Heroism, A is for Amazing, N is for NARC! Take it from me, a certified Carnahanaholic!

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 11:18 p.m. CST

    I'm literally tired...

    by Adus

    of seeing Harrison Ford getting relentlessly slammed on this site. As well as Harry or Moriarty or anyone else constantly playing armchair quarterback and trying to dictate which direction he should or should not take his career. Now, I admit that in the recent years not everything he's been in has been a masterpiece (we all could have done without "Restless Hearts) but I've like him in everything I've ever seen him in. That includes "K-19: The Widowmaker" which I thought was pretty damn good, excluding the rather clunky epilogue. As as "A Walk Among the Tombstones" goes I'm definitely looking forward to it.

  • Oct. 30, 2002, 11:59 p.m. CST

    uh.. "your friends and neighbors"

    by TestGiver

    Patric is doing fine to these eyes... I want him to make money but not end up going to the center of the earth with the chick from Boys Don't Cry.

  • Oct. 31, 2002, 7:19 a.m. CST


    by MiloM

    To the poster who said that Block's Ehrengraf stories would make great short films: What are you thinking? They're truly brilliant stories, but the whole point of them is that all the interesting action happens offstage and is only leaked to the reader by implication. Every single Ehrengraf story consists in its entirety of two people sitting across a table, talking.

  • Oct. 31, 2002, 11 a.m. CST

    One word:

    by Glass

    Training Day.

  • Oct. 31, 2002, 11 a.m. CST

    Well, I guess that's 2 words

    by Glass

  • Oct. 31, 2002, 1:54 p.m. CST

    I'm so sick of cops-avenging-their-partners plots

    by Mister Pink

    How about a movie where the guy HATED his partner and he's GLAD the guy is dead? This NARC shit sounds completely routine and Jason Patrick has all the screen presence of a piece of fucking paper.

  • THE BITTER DONUT. That's all I have, the title. But the partner, see he dies two minutes before his retirement! And he wasn't even supposed to be there!

  • Oct. 31, 2002, 3:46 p.m. CST

    I really like Mori's writing, but.....

    by Belvis

    Can someone PLEASE learn what the word "literally" means. Case in point, "NARC opens with a scene that literally grabs you by the shirtfront and shakes you.." So let me get this straight. Someone from the movie "LITERALLY" jumps off of the screen and grabs your shirt? That would scare the shit out of me. I would probably be crying in the theater like Harry does at every movie he sees. I know that it's nitpicky, but that has always bugged me. That and not knowing how to spell definitely. It is NOT definately. Thank you and goodnight.

  • Oct. 31, 2002, 7:03 p.m. CST

    Belvis, you literatzi limp-dicked uberchimp, you are right

    by ZombieBruce

    Go watch cspan booknotes and stop beating on poor geeks who only want cream in the sugar. YOU SUCK.

  • Oct. 31, 2002, 7:22 p.m. CST

    In defense of Ashby

    by JohnnyBarrett

    Just so everyone knows, * Million Ways to Die was taken away from Hal Ashby before he cut one foot of film. In other words, it isn't his film. Rosanna Arquette and Jeff Bridges have both said that Ashby's version would have been terrific and what he had in mind was totally different than what was on screen: he had different music, tone, pace, etc. in mind and this was sabotaged. So don't badmouth Ashby, Moriarty. He was one of the masters.

  • Oct. 31, 2002, 10:38 p.m. CST

    I've got six words for you

    by chickenmonkey

  • Nov. 1, 2002, 4:27 a.m. CST

    I too have seen only 20 movies.

    by Margot Tenenbaum

    FRIDAY THE 13th overrated? By who -- the editors of FANGORIA?

  • Nov. 1, 2002, 5:39 a.m. CST


    by Juggernut

    How can you call yourself a movie critic if you think Godfather is overated. You amateur Fool!

  • Nov. 1, 2002, 9:11 a.m. CST

    Moriarity - You really need to rewatch 8 Million Ways...

    by King Leer

    You're betraying your ignorance here. If you think you're any kind of writer, you must know that the sno-cone scene between Jeff Bridges and Andy Garcia is a modern classic that not Tarantino, not Carnahan, not anybody can match. The film was flawed because the studio took it out of Ashby's hands, and it basically killed him...Nevertheless, it has moments that can't be touched.

  • Nov. 2, 2002, 11:29 a.m. CST

    The snowcone scene in 8 Million Ways ti Die...

    by Mister Pink

    does not hold a candle to the snowcone scene in JACKASS. Now THAT was some funny shit.

  • Nov. 3, 2002, 2:08 a.m. CST

    This reeks of overhype and seems like a product of the Phony Buz

    by heywood jablomie

    Read the New York Times Magazine today about how NARC got where it got...Lions Gate screened it for various fatcats, it got to Tom Cruise, yadda yadda yadda. Remember: Tom Cruise thought LOCK STOCK was the greatest movie of the last half century. Maybe it's all right, but it'll get murdered by the overkill. Also: Jason PATRIC? That guy wasn't even good in his big flashy role in YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS. He's like a narcissistic version of Will Patton. Blehh. And does anybody care what Ole Mount Rushmore Harrison Ford does next anyway?