Undercover narcotics officer Nick Tellis chases a drug dealer through the streets of Detroit after Tellis' identity has been discovered. During the pursuit, the dealer holds a child hostage. Tellis shoots and kills the dealer, but a stray bullet hits the child's pregnant mother, causing her to miscarry.
Eighteen months later, the Detroit Police Department asks Tellis to investigate the murder of an undercover narcotics officer named Michael Calvess. Tellis is initially reluctant, but reads the investigation files and agrees to take the case on two conditions. First, he will get a desk job if he secures a conviction. Second, he is partnered with detective Henry Oak, whom Tellis is aware of from the files. Tellis' reason for wanting Oak is his opinion that the only useful evidence in the investigation came from him. The department chief informs Tellis of Oak's reputation, but also warns him about his instability. Oak is assigned to the case.
Oak believes the department wants the Calvess case buried. He reveals that his wife died of cancer, and they had no children. He recalls a drug bust decades prior, where he found a ten-year-old girl who was being sold into prostitution by her stepfather, resulting in Oak beating the man. He sees parallels between that case and the current one.
Meanwhile, Tellis' wife is worried about her husband. Tellis visits Calvess' widow Kathryn, and asks about her relationship with her husband while he was on the street. Oak, who is protective of Kathryn and her children, turns up at the house and is furious at Tellis.
Tellis and Oak visit the scene of an apparent murder of a drug dealer, shot dead in his bathtub. Tellis discovers the bullet had no fire-pin mark, and surmises that the man used it as a bong and forgot it was loaded. Once heated, the shotgun discharged, killing him. Tellis also notes that the shotgun in question is a SWAT weapon with the serial number filed off.
Determining that this lead is fruitless, they visit the house of a man involved in the initial shootout involving Tellis. Although they find no evidence to suggest he murdered Calvess, they find another officer's badge on the premises. The man pulls a gun and wounds Tellis before Oak kills him in self-defense.
At home, Tellis' wife leaves him. The case is closed as Sheps is determined to be Calvess' killer. Tellis and Oak are furious as they believe the killer is yet to be found, and continue to investigate independently.
Oak determines that suspects are in an auto body shop. There, Oak finds and disarms one suspect while Tellis chases another outside and shoots him in the leg. After they are bound, Oak attempts to force a confession out of them. Tellis is increasingly suspicious of Oak's tactics, especially after viewing files that suggest Oak had thrown out prostitution charges for a woman. Oak finds police issue guns in the trunk of one man's car, including one that belonged to Calvess, and he beats both men until Tellis tells him to get CSI tools from the car.
When Oak leaves the room, Tellis locks the door, turns on the tape recorder, and asks for the truth. The dealers explain that Calvess blew Tellis' cover eighteen months before, causing the shootout. They recount Calvess' degeneration into chemical dependency. On the day of the murder, Calvess tried to deal with the two dealers, but it went badly. At that point Oak arrived, having trailed Calvess to confirm rumors that he was an addict. Calvess went for his weapon, which was the dealers' justification for attacking him. The two men ran off as Oak shot at them.
Tellis confronts Oak, telling him that the dealers claim Oak shot at them, hitting one in the shoulder, before murdering Calvess. Oak denies this, then Tellis raises the issue of Oaks' relationship with Calvess' wife Kathryn.
Kathryn was the ten-year-old girl who was pimped out by her stepfather. Oak considers her the daughter he never had, and has remained close. He has been protecting her by covering crimes she committed in her teenage years. Tellis tells Oak he will make the arrest, and Oak beats him with the shotgun, and resumes brutalizing the dealers. He turns the tape recorder on and attempts to beat a confession out of the men, threatening to shoot them. Tellis breaks into their car, retrieves a gun, calls for back-up, and re-enters the building. He shoots Oak when Oak refuses to put his gun down. Tellis moves to aid Oak, and, realizing he's dying, pleads for the truth of what happened the night Calvess died.
Oak explains that Calvess shot at the dealers as they fled from Oak, leaving the shoulder wound. Oak argued with him, explaining that he had had enough of defending Calvess and would turn him in to the Department. In despair, Calvess took his gun and shot himself. Oak had been protecting his name and family, so Calvess' wife could receive his pension. Oak's motive was to convict the dealers who he felt made Mike a junkie. Oak dies in Tellis' arms, leaving the confession on tape.Jason Patric as Nick TellisRay Liotta as Henry OakChi McBride as Captain CheeversLloyd Adams as Walter DandridgeAnne Openshaw as Kathryn CalvessStacey Farber as Young KathrynAlan van Sprang as Michael CalvessJohn Ortiz as Octavio RuizBusta Rhymes as Darnell 'Big D Love' BeeryBishop Brigante as Eugene "Deacon" Sheps
Narc opened in the U.S on December 17, 2002 in a limited release in 6 theaters and grossed $63,303 with an average of $10,550 per theater and ranking #45 at the box office. The film then had its wide release in 822 theaters and grossed $2,825,807 with an average of $3,437 per theater and ranking #12. The film ended up earning $10,465,659 domestically and $2,168,088 internationally for a total of $12,633,747, doubling its $6.5 million production budget.
Narc received positive reviews from critics and has a "Certified Fresh" rating of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 156 reviews with an average score of 7.1 out of 10. The consensus states "Jason Patric and Ray Liotta are electrifying in this gritty, if a little too familiar, cop drama." The film also has a score of 70 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 34 reviews indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Director Joe Carnahan wrote a pilot script and intends to direct and produce TV series inspired by the film for Paramount Television. Rapper Eminem has been hired as an executive producer and music supervisor. There is still no word which network will premiere the crime drama, but it's likely that it will come after Carnahan directs Bad Boys 3.