NARCOPOLIS movie poster | ©2015 IFC Midnight

NARCOPOLIS movie poster | ©2015 IFC Midnight

Rating: Not Rated
Eliot Cowan, Molly Gaisford, Elodie Young, Louis Trefgarne, Jonathan Pryce, James Callis, Harry Lloyd, Robert Bathurst
Justin Trefgarne
Justin Tregarne
IFC Midnight
Release Date:
Theatrical & VOD, October 2, 2015

NARCOPOLIS is one of those movies that, in narrative terms, ties its shoelaces together at the start and never fully finds its footing thereafter. This is a pity, because writer/director Justin Trefgarne has assembled a strong cast and has the beginnings of a good idea.

At the start, a title tells us we’re in 2044 London. Drug company kingpin Todd Ambro (James Callis) is earnestly talking to an interviewer about the virtues of recreational drug legalization twenty-five years ago. Two ardent young people (Elodie Young, Harry Lloyd) are frantically working at two computer stations. From the way this is intercut with Ambro CEO Todd Ambro (James Callis), we gather they’re trying to bring his company down.

Then something happens and a title tells us it’s twenty years earlier. Police detective Frank Grieves (Elliot Cowan) comes across a man’s body with half its head missing; the young woman we saw in the opening sequences flees the scene. Mysteriously, there are no DNA matches to the dead man in the police database. Also mysteriously, Frank’s superiors would rather he not pursue the case.

Frank has other problems. His wife Angie (Molly Gaisford) and young son Ben (Louis Trefgarne) are both very distressed about his long absences from home, while at work, he’s suffering the after-effects of having accidentally shot and wounded a fellow officer.

Cowan is excellent as the exhausted, determined Frank and he gets strong support from his cast mates. Writer/director Justin Trefgarne creates a visually bleak, corroded landscape. However, what the filmmaker doesn’t do is provide enough nuance to make this a worthwhile character study, which was evidently the intention. Yes, Cowan makes us believe in Frank’s resolve and innate decency, as well as his state when he slips up, but there isn’t enough surrounding him to make us feel he’s connected to a fully-realized world. Even though we see her at work, Angie is very much defined by marriage and motherhood – Gaisford does great work, but we have no idea who this woman is when she’s not railing at Frank for never being around or protecting her son.

The big social question of what if drugs were legal is almost instantly canceled out by the revelation that only Ambro’s products are sold within the law. This means there’s still an illegal drug trade and an incentive to crack down on it, so this aspect of the plot merges in the mind with every other cops vs. dealers drama we’ve ever seen. Big Pharma is Big Pharma, whether it’s selling cold remedies or hallucinogens. This is all well and good – whatever their premise, the filmmakers aren’t obliged to pay off its unique aspects if that’s not what they’re going after – except that NARCOPOLIS spends so much time setting up the legality of Ambro’s products that we wind up getting stuck with a lot of red herring plotting.

The film’s actual intent shows up at around the fifty-minute mark. By this point, despite the addition of Jonathan Pryce to the proceedings, things have to speed up in order to fit them all in to the rest of the running time. The explanations that we get don’t really hang together, so that we’re still trying to figure out the various moving pieces when we’re meant to be having an emotional reaction.

NARCOPOLIS has in its bones the makings of something more than what it is. We get strong acting, but it’s in the service of what turns out to be a pretty standard police and corruption drama beneath promising sci-fi trappings.

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