Director: Justin Trefgarne
Cast: Elliot Cowan, Elodie Yung, Jonathan Pryce
Synopsis: In the near future, Frank Grieves is a new breed of police officer working in a city where all recreational drugs are legal. When he is taken off a case involving an unidentified corpse, he discovers that legalization has come at a price.
Dystopian societies are a staple of Science Fiction movies, a fact which makes it all the more difficult for filmmakers to create something new. In Narcopolis, the bleak British thriller from feature debutant Justin Trefgarne, we’re presented with a mash-up of the Noir elements of Blade Runner and the time travel conundrums of the Terminator movies as well as a dash of The Sweeney for good measure. Its hero is Frank Grieves (Elliot Cowan – Alexander), a loner police detective and recovering drug addict who is rebuilding his life after accidentally shooting his boss (Robert Bathurst – Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie) in the head. Quite how Grieves managed to hold on to his job after such a blunder is something of a mystery, but it could have something to do with the fact that Narcopolis is set in a near-future in which drugs have been legalised and are distributed by the shadowy Ambro organisation. It’s an intriguing concept which could form the basis of a decent storyline, but one of Trefgarne’s problems is that he’s brimming with ideas, all of which vie for attention throughout the movie. As well as the sinister motives behind the legalisation of narcotics, we have the mystery of a dead body found by Grieves which is missing half its head and appears on no Government database of citizens, the detective’s troubled domestic life which sees him temporarily separated from his wife and young son as he attempts to overcome his addiction, a conspiracy plot between the upper echelons of the police and Ambro, and a confusing opening sequence set twenty years after the bulk of the movie in which a young couple attempt to hack into a futuristic mainframe. All these strands do eventually come together, but without really providing an entirely coherent conclusion.
There’s no doubting that Trefgarne has an abundance of talent, and is to be commended for creating a convincing futuristic scenario on a limited budget, a portion of which was raised though Kickstarter donations. Quite how small that budget was isn’t known, but it’s doubtful that there were too many zeroes in the figure. So, the grainy cityscape not only provides a believably desolate backdrop, but goes some way towards excusing the use of deserted industrial estates and abandoned warehouses as locations. Trefgarne also assembles an accomplished cast, including TV Daredevil’s Elodie Young, and Jonathan Pryce (Shopping, Carrington) as a hermit-like scientist with a life-threatening allergy to technology. The link between the present and that mysterious early scene does slowly come to light – both for Grieves and the audience – but the detective always seems to be a touch more clued-in than the rest of us. Nevertheless, while he might have us struggling to keep up with what’s going on, Trefgarne never loses our interest. Narcopolis has the raw edges of both the first-time director and the low-budget independent, but is good enough to suggest that Trefgarne is a name worth watching.
(Reviewed 4th October 2015)