As I sat down to write my review of Narcopolis I began to feel guilty. It felt unfair to criticise a movie so much when it had obviously tried to deliver something beyond the restraints of a low budget and limited resources. But then I remembered that it was crap.
Writer-director Justin Trefgarne has crafted a simplistic sci-fi thriller that he obviously thinks is more complex and enjoyably thoughtful than it actually is. Despite the fact that I don’t feel anything can be spoiled, I won’t go into too many details here. Suffice to say, events take place in a near-future in which many recreational drugs are legal. Elliot Cowan plays a police officer working to take down those selling drugs that aren’t deemed safe, but things start to get complicated for him when he discovers an unidentified dead body. As he tries to get to the bottom of everything, Cowan soon finds himself, and his family, in a whole heap of danger.
The future is a world of darkness, tinged with blue light. It has high, shiny buildings everywhere, cars have barcode plates on them instead of standard number plates, and there are nice graphics on every interface. To be fair, although this feels very much like so many other low-budget visions of the future, the world-building here is decently done. It’s about the only thing, with the exception of the acting from Cowan, that I can praise.
The cast all suffer at the hands of Trefgarne, who seems to focus on his twists and turns without giving any thought to logic, the characters, or how to create/maintain tension. Oh, and by logic I mean logic in relation to the world shown onscreen, of course. Just in case anyone thinks otherwise. Characters act incompetently when required, which is most of the time, and sudden changes from scene to scene are not uncommon (most notable moments involve Cowan and Robert Bathurst). Cowan does well enough as the grim cop determined to stay on a case that his superiors want to remove him from, but Elodie Yung, Jonathan Pryce, and Bathurst all do far from their best work. That doesn’t matter to Trefgarne, however, as he moves everyone around randomly, like a child creating some storyline from some new LEGO pieces that he’s just been handed for Christmas.
There are a few good ideas buried away in Narcopolis, which makes the end result so much more disheartening. Some more time and care could have allowed this to become a decent little sci-fi thriller. Instead, it ends up being laughable (e.g. the cop who leaves a briefcase with a loaded gun and wad of money in his young son’s bedroom), derivative in a way that will just remind you of all the better films it has cribbed stuff from, and absolutely unsatisfying in pure entertainment terms. The only hope I have for Justin Trefgarne is the possibility that he takes a long, hard look at his mistakes and endeavours to change them on future projects.
Narcopolis was screened at EIFF 2015.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: JUSTIN TREFGARNE
STARS: ELLIOT COWAN, ELODIE YUNG, JONATHAN PRYCE, ROBERT BATHURST
RUNTIME: 96 MINS APPROX