EIFF 2015 – Narcopolis
Justin Trefgarne’s Narcopolis takes place in the not too distant future where recreational drugs are legal with some of the more dangerous narcotics off limits. The film follows a determined drug enforcement cop Frank Grieves (Elliot Cowan) who is taken off a mysterious case involving an unidentified corpse.
Narcopolis has a story that needlessly complicates itself. I was fine with the futuristic setting which was built pretty well despite the budget limitations. Touch screen displays and barcode license plates are everywhere to signify a level of progression as well as large shiny CGI building peppering the landscape. There’s a sense of cheapness to the whole thing but considering the undoubtedly tiny budget the whole thing doesn’t look all that bad. It’s certainly a world that some thought has gone into and as such it feels nice and organic.
I have to question the decision to throw in a half baked time travel plot that honestly feels like it was added in at the last minute. The script handles the rules of time travel really clumsily and it never quite feels like it fits into the story. What was wrong with doing a sci fi thriller about the dangers of legalised drugs? That would have been a nice theme to explore in a sci fi setting.
There are actually a lot of interesting themes hinted at to chew on here. We have the public fear of energy shortages for one thing and I like the idea that the government pacifies the public by giving them access to drugs to make them forget about the larger world issues. Conspiracies in sci fi are all too common but in the right hands they can be done right. All of this potential makes me wonder why time travel was needed at all.
Elliot Cowan puts in a really good performance given the list of tropes he’s given in place of actual characteristics. He’s your standard gruff cop with a strained family life and a sense of morality sorely lacking in the rest of his colleagues. Cowan runs with all of this and makes it pretty believable. Frank Grieves is always an engaging character despite the obvious limitations given to him in the script.
James Callis is another highlight as corporate bigwig Todd Ambro. Fans of Battlestar Galactica will note that he’s basically playing the same character here but there’s no denying that he’s good at it. Ambro is charismatic and charming yet constantly slimy. It’s clear that he’s hiding a dark purpose whenever he speaks. Again, pretty typical stuff but Callis pulls it off.
Other characters don’t quite fare as well. Jonathan Pryce plays a scientist who almost dies every time someone uses a mobile phone for some reason and Elodie Yung is the pointless time traveler. Both have very little to work with so come across as entirely underwhelming. The film would have been better if they had been left out altogether.
This is a really dumb movie trying to masquerade as a smart one and in that it completely fails. Character motivations change from one scene to the next in order to serve the hopelessly thin plot. The time travel rules are constantly changed adding to the confusion that comes with using it in the first place. It all comes across as a series of wasted opportunities to tell a story that is truly engaging.
I can almost recommend this one as there is some level of entertainment to be gained with it. It’s never terrible, just dumb and poorly executed. You could do worse for sci fi thrillers but also a lot better.