“The drug is the key”
Written and directed by Justin Trefgarne, British sci-fi flick Narcopolis marks his major directing debut and on a limited budget, especially for this genre, it very much looks the part. Set in a dystopian near-future where drugs are no longer illegal but a black market still flourishes, hard-bitten cop Frank Grieves finds himself drawn into a dark mystery when he’s called onto a job. And as the dead bodies, estranged families, corporate conspiracies and mind-bending narcotics pile up, this complex case proves a tough one for Frank to crack.
With Elliot Cowan in the lead role, it should be little surprise that Narcopolis appealed to me but I do like a good sci-fi film and without a huge amount of money to spend, Trefgarne’s focus has clearly been on richly defined character interaction and it pays off. Amongst others, Cowan’s grizzled former addict has to deal with the boss he accidentally shot in the face (a wry Robert Bathurst), his adoring but neglected son (a sweet Louis Trefgarne) and mysterious woman Eva Gray (Elodie Yung) who holds many of the secrets needed to expose the truth.
And he’s an engaging hero, spiky yet determined in the face of opaque corporate threats. Tender in the HG Wells-explaining scenes with his son, intense against Jonathan Pryce’s superb recluse, it’s a strong role for Cowan, an actor who is taking his sweet time about making it back onto the stage. The film also looks fantastic, Paul Booth and takis’ production design is futuristically slick in suggesting society’s polarisation in the urban sprawl and Christopher Moon’s cinematography sets the dramatically dark tone expertly well with its striking muted colour palette.
There are moments where the plot overreaches itself a little, multiple story strands co-exist happily enough but it does mean aspects like the experimental time-travel aren’t fleshed out quite as much as they could (which would have given us more of Harry Lloyd’s character) and the threat posed by the shadowy Ambro Corporation (headed by Battlestar Galactica’s James Callis) is a tad vague. But the overall impact of the film is impressive and marks Trefgarne as a director to watch.