Decriminalisation of drugs and what that would lead to: Justin Trefgarne’s Narcopolis is a dystopian take on a hot topic. For a debut feature this sci-fi political thriller is ridiculously ballsy in its choice of subject matter but often favours the thrill of its twisting adventure over deeper consideration of its core questions. There’s still plenty to enjoy though.
The aesthetic of Trefgarne’s future is superb, consistent, and actually riveting as a social-political climate. There’s something fresh and untapped in the profound images of excessive, albeit relatively “safe”, drugs consumption, but a whole package of side-issues that could have been better exploited. In the end, this is the same corrupt copper story you’ve seen before, this one is just dressed as something new.
The cast is perfectly pitched for this kind of pulpy adventure. Elliot Cowan makes a great leading man as Grieves whilst Jonathan Pryce lends his veritable charisma in the form of an aging tech-whizz with the peculiar characteristic of having his brains start to melt whenever a nearby mobile rings. As you can imagine, it makes for entertaining viewing. Robert Bathurst plays Grieves’ slimy police chief with suitable glee and James Callis hams it up as elusive pharmaceutical philanthropist Todd Ambro.
Narcopolis drifts closer and closer to its original subject matter, a dystopian look at a world of legal recreational drugs, then throws a wobbly and staggers away just as quickly diving into a shoehorned tale of time travel. The second Trefgarne unveils his plot twist in broad daylight it loses its mystique and a significant amount of edge. Yet, For the most part Narcopolis is a gripping, ambitious, slick, and shady hash-up of sci-fi dystopia and noir thriller, with some final act problems. Still, it asks some interesting questions and proves an impressive debut.