Narcopolis (2015)

September 22nd, 2015
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Justin Trefgarne; Cast: Elliot Cowan, Robert Bathurst, Jonathan Pryce, Elodie Yung, James Caliss, Molly Gaisford, Cosima Shaw; UK 2014, 96 min.

NARCOPOLIS is a potent cocktail of Sci-fi and film noir and the feature debut of writer/director Justin Trefgarne who reminds us what cinema can really achieve. With a budget of around one million pounds, Trefgarne’s visionary approach is in stark contrast to many UK films which tend to be anaemic, ‘atmospheric’ studies lacking a narrative, or bland, TV-like unimaginative genre products.

Set in a dystopian London of 2024, burnt-out Detective Frank Grieves (Cowan) can hardly keep his family together, let alone fulfill his professional duties: in a society where drugs are free (and presumably safe), the police are consumers like everybody else. When Grieves finds a body with half its head missing and no recognisable DNA on the database, he stumbles into a mystery. His superior Nolan (Bathurst) pulls him off the case, but Grieves is stubborn and when he meets Eva Gray (Yung) who claims to be from the future, he starts to uncover a plot leading to Todd Ambro (Caliss), owner and CEO of the almighty drug company Ambro, who is controlling the police force and trying out an experimental drug aimed at dumbing down the population (surely this is the present?) . With the help of Sidorov (Pryce), an elderly scientist, Grieves must learn to time-travel: not only to save his son Ben, but the entire world in a show-down set in 2044.

Every scene in Narcopolis is stunning, Trefgarne pulls a powerful punch, even when sometimes less might have been more. DOP Christopher Moon has created a London that gleams and glitters on the outside but seethes in dankness where the action unfurls below.

A drug-riddled Grieves scuttles like a water rat running through a labyrinth, erratic and irrational. Everyone here has a function, Ambro’s wife Ellen (Shaw), a frosted beauty, who helps to represent her husband’s commercial façade of clipped respectability. In contrast, Grieves wife Angie (Gaisford), is harassed from the outset, pleading with her husband to leave the city for the sake of their son.

There are glaring plotholes: the time-travel mechanism is not very well explained, and Trefgarne quotes from classic noir and Sci-fi films are overdone – but the sheer brilliance of the images and a committed cast keep the audience engaged. logic only comes into play when the film does not convince (Hitchcock’s North by North West is simply barmy from a rational viewpoint), and Narcopolis’ low budget is in stark contrast to its high emotions and visionary images. Trefgarne might have put too much into Narcopolis, but that’s what first films are for. Recommended.


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