SUB-GENRES: Mystery / Thriller
DIRECTED BY: Justin Trefgarne
WRITTEN BY: Justin Trefgarne
PEW PEW: Narcopolis functions a lot like film noir. As such, hard-boiled drama and suspense takes the front seat, but it is broken up by the requisite amount of violence for your average crime drama.
CAT FOOD: Narcopolis has quite a bit to say, albeit a tad awkwardly. The film centres on a world where drugs are legal, and it’s anything but sugar-coated.
As a Roger Corman fan, I’m used to being roped in by low budget films with brilliant posters and cover art. Galaxy of Terror, for instance, presents a far more impressive and dramatic picture on its cover art than is ultimately delivered by the film. When I came across Narcopolis, I’ll admit I passed it up thinking it was going to be another one of those movies. After all, there can’t be shortage of talented artists waiting to put together a beautiful cover for a lackluster film.
But it haunted me for days. Its beautiful cover oozes everything I love about Blade Runner’s look and feel. The noir, hard-boiled, trenchcoat-wearing detective meets the neon-contrasted darkness of a bleak future dominated by over commercialisation. With Blade Runner, our problem was creating replicated human life while we still hadn’t learned to live our own right. With Narcopolis, drugs are the main focus. Tossing and turning for days I thought, what if this thing really is like Blade Runner? What am I missing?! Damn you, marketing people.
So I bought a copy and, let me tell you, the film was far better than I expected. While most definitely not a Blade Runner for a new generation, Narcopolis is definitely an engaging picture with an interesting neo-noir character story and a cool and very touching ending.
We are injected (pun intended) into the film in 2044, where a futuristic London, England is pretty much owned by a powerful drug corporation called Ambro. In this stunning, Blade Runner-inspired future, licensed drugs are completely legal and are deemed safe for use, protected by an Ambro guarantee. During a botched sabotage mission against Ambro and a new drug the company is developing, a saboteur fries his own brain and disappears through time.
We pick up twenty years earlier in 2024, where we spend most of the rest of the film. The impressive neon urban sprawl hasn’t yet developed and the gritty, brown landscapes are populated by junkies and street rat drug dealers. Our main character, Frank Grieves, is a detective whose job, on top of regular police duties, is to track down and stop the dealers of unlicensed drugs.
When Frank investigates a body that suddenly appeared at Ambro headquarters with half its head fried out, he finds that police technology cannot come up with an I.D. on the body. As Ambro swoops in to cover up what has happened, Frank finds himself drawn into a deadly mystery that pits him against Ambro, as well as against his own co-workers, in a fight to protect his family. In a world where habitual drug use is a normal thing, Frank is a recovering junkie, which adds additional dynamic to, and strain on, his situation.
The casting is brilliant, with everyone looking more than realistic enough for their roles in a world full of junkies. Frank’s wife isn’t some A-list actress you’d see in a full blown production– Molly Gaisford contrasts this wonderfully, with appearance and performance that are at once realistic and instantly moving. She’s had a rough run and you can really feel for her situation.
The film is flawed in a few ways, however. Most noticeably, Narcopolis flounders in its mid-section, which is a labyrinthine journey through Frank’s work, Frank’s battle with drugs, and Frank’s attempt to stick to his guns in spite of the forces that attempt to derail him. Cohesion begins to slip a little as the dramatic exchanges play out, but it does come back into focus in time to deliver a really satisfying ending.
So ultimately, Narcopolis isn’t as much like Blade Runner as its cover boasts, but it’s still a neat little detective story that is quite interesting. Like most of the old classic hard-boiled noir stories, Narcopolis is more the story of the oppressively bleak world it is based in, with the character story (lent integrity by a great performance from Elliot Cowan) presented as just a glimmer of light in a starry expanse of dark, tragic stories. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great watch for fans of a good gritty noir detective story.