Review: Narcopolis Is Ambitious But Doesn’t Quite Work
Director: Justin Trefgarne
Screenwriter: Justin Trefgarne
Principal Cast: Elliot Cowan, Elodie Yung, Jonathan Pryce, Robert Bathurst, James Callis, and Cosima Shaw
Summary: In the near future, Frank Grieves is a new breed of police officer working in a city where all recreational drugs are legal. When he is taken off a case involving an unidentified corpse, he discovers that legalization has come at a price.
I enjoy independent cinema a lot. I went to Sundance twice on my own dime before I got hired by WatchPlayRead and covered it just because I like seeing offbeat and sometimes “a little weird” movies. The thing about independent movies, though, is that they are almost like tests in college in that they need to be graded on a curve. You have to ask yourself if you can really hold back special effects against something that has a small budget. That’s why so many independent movies are so character and story driven; those things are cheap to do. However, when you stumble in your story and characters in the movie that is all about story and characters, it becomes much more obvious.
Narcopolis presents an interesting concept for the future but doesn’t expand on the world enough or have interesting enough characters to cover up how little of that future we actually see.
The one thing that truly shot this movie in the foot for me was that I felt like a movie about everyone always being on various types of drugs would be more interesting to watch. The reality was that Narcopolis isn’t as trippy or as weird as I thought it was going to be. The implication seems to be that everyone is emotionally dead unless they are on some sort of drug, so that explains why everyone is so flat and visually uninteresting to watch, but that still makes it a very emotionally dead feeling movie. There could have been a counter to this if everything around the characters was crazy and weird looking, but this is an indie so there wasn’t a budget for crazy special effects that could have changed the tone of the picture.
The movie has a major twist at the end that I won’t spoil, and that is what took what I thought was a semi futuristic movie into full blown science fiction. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it didn’t feel like it was fitting in with the rest of the movie that seemed to be presenting itself as something that could really happen. It wasn’t quite tonal whiplash but it did feel like it didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the movie. I also got the impression that the movie was much more impressed with this twist than I was, because as soon as they started to hint about it I mentally called it. A predictable twist isn’t always a bad twist but when it doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the movie the juxtaposition doesn’t work. The entire production felt like it was trying very hard to make a point but I couldn’t quite discern what that point actually is. Perhaps that “drugs are bad” but I feel like we all know that.
There were things that I did like, however. Director and writer Justin Treggarne does present a very interesting story, maybe a bit too ambitious for the budget direction. I didn’t dislike the story or the world building because, in reality, people who are on drugs all the time tend to be emotionally dead when they aren’t high. That is the consequence of being high. The cast is filled with some great names including Elodie Yung, who is playing Elektra in season two of Daredevil, as our mysterious girl Eva that kicks off a good portion of the plot. Elliot Cowan is our leading man Frank Grieves who spends a large amount of the movie getting the crap kicked out of him and strangely not medicating that pain with painkillers. The great Jonathan Pryce of Game of Thrones fame is on hand as our “knowledgeable old guy who knows more than he is letting on”. Fans of the television series Dracula will be happy to see Robert Bathurst turn up as Nolan, Frank’s commanding officer.
Narcopolis is an ambitious and interesting idea that doesn’t quite work as a full length feature. I feel like a short film, simply exploring what a world that has legalized drugs is like, would have been more interesting. I would say this one will be worth a look when it turns up in your Netflix queue or maybe if you have some money on your iTunes account that needs to get used. It’s an indie whose ambitions were too large for its budget. That being said I’ll take an ambitious movie that doesn’t entirely work over something that doesn’t even try.