In the not-too-distant future, recreational drugs have become legalized, and are regulated and ruled by the mega-corporation, Ambro. A police officer catches wind of something shady going on with Ambro when he starts investigating the mysterious death of an unidentifiable body. This is the setting for Narcopolis, a new UK film from T Squared Films and IFC Midnight, and director/writer Justin Trefgarne. It releases in the US in theaters and on VOD on October 2nd.
Narcopolis is a bleak, yet stylish sci-fi thriller with a techno-fueled soundtrack. The scale of the movie is kept relatively small to allow the viewer to easily enter the world created with the story and understand how it works. The propaganda from Ambro seems to suggest that the world can still be a somewhat peaceful place by giving its citizens more freedom to “play safely,” but the dark tone and the perspective from the main character hints that things are not all that well. Still, it is interesting to see people-even executives-throughout the film casually snorting cocaine in the open because there are no consequences.
The grizzled and troubled Frank Grieves works as a “dreck” for the police department, and deals with the bowels of the city to make sure that Ambro is the only one distributing the drugs. His story is familiar-a cop with a dark past who is distant from his wife and son, and prefers to work as a rogue. Actor Elliot Cowan is reminiscent of a less-intense Jason Statham. Frank’s history with drugs keeps the film grounded in the reality of the situation they have created, and gives him the incentive to keep investigating when he thinks there is a new drug out there. His character is the only one that is really fully explored, even though there was much potential in some of the other major players in the story, like the reclusive Todd Ambro and his more business-minded wife Ellen, and the enigmatic Eva, whose motivations and backstory are not revealed at all. This really could have helped heighten the emotion and connection at the end if she had been given a bigger role to play.
At about the 40-minute mark, the real sci-fi angle of Narcopolis comes into play and really amps up a story that otherwise didn’t seem to be going anywhere. The time-travel aspect is hinted at near the beginning of the film when Frank gives his son Ben a birthday present, and though this story-telling technique usually makes me just a little bit weary as to whether it can actually work or not, once again the filmmakers keep things simple and small and don’t try to go on some grandiose scale or end up writing themselves into a corner. For a sci-fi film, the action is fairly minimal and the effects even moreso, but the ones that occur during the time-travel moments are interesting and effectively new to the genre.
Narcopolis is a very well-done sci-fi thriller with a creative concept. The actors do a wonderful job with their roles, but some of the characters could definitely have been fleshed out more to get that real emotional connection with the audience. Narcopolis will open in New York City at the IFC Center on October 2, and will be available on VOD the same day.
WICKED RATING: 5/10
Director: Justin Trefgarne
Writer: Justin Trefgarne
Stars: Elliot Cowan, Elodie Yung, Jonathan Pryce, Robert Bathurst
Release: October 2, 2015
Studio/ Production Co: T Squared Films, IFC Midnight
Length: 96 Minutes