Sunday, 10 April 2016

Fare (US 2016: Dir Thomas Torrey)

Thomas Torrey - Fare’s director – is one of the more gifted short movie makers working in America at the moment: both Not Forgotten, his 2014 piece for the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War, and Old Henry, his 2013 meditation on old age, are extremely moving short films (watch them on Vimeo).  So when I heard the premise for his first full length movie – a film shot entirely within the confines of a taxi cab – my initial thought was to suspect it of being rather too similar to the 2013 British film Locke, where Tom Hardy was the only actor in a film set entirely within a car. Well how wrong I was. Whereas Locke was perhaps more an exercise in cinematic possibilities – testing whether tension could be created with just one character and a (very) limited set - Fare is the real deal with a strong emotional core.

Eric is a part time cab driver, earning extra money while his real job – as an estate agent – is going through a dry patch. Eric’s wife Audrey is also in real estate, but doing much better working in the commercial sector: as a result their marriage seems to be on the rocks, and you get the sense that he’s not doing the cabbing because he needs the money, but more to stay away from Audrey.

One of Eric’s more interesting fares (and the only one to sit up front with him) is a clever, older Irish man (credited enigmatically as ‘The Foreigner’) who questions Eric constantly and quotes marital philosophy at him courtesy of a writer called Wormwood.  Through his interrogations we get a clear understanding of Eric’s problems - including suspecting his wife of infidelity. As they get to the end of the ride The Foreigner tells him ominously “your night’s just beginning then.” And indeed it is, for the next fare he picks up, smooth talking Patrick, could just be the very slimeball with whom his wife is having an affair. With The Foreigner’s wise words about having to fight for your marriage echoing in his head, Eric drives into the dark with his captive fare, intent on getting his life back on track.

As usual I won’t give away any more of the plot, except to mention that there’s a major plot shift about two thirds of the way through that initially appears incongruous but makes sense by the time the final credits roll.  A lot of Fare’s success is down to its ambiguity – are the events in it chance or causality, and to what extent is The Foreigner responsible for what happens? Is he actually Wormwood? And if so is it coincidence that the word Wormwood has a Biblical context? And that ‘foreigner’ is interchangeable with ‘devil’ when translated into Chinese?

These are intriguing ideas, but they don’t get in the way of the film’s growing tension, generated via a great script (by Torrey), some sharp acting from the director himself as down on his luck Eric, Katherine Drew as Audrey and J.R. Adduci as Patrick. A running time of 75 minutes that doesn’t squander a second also keeps things on track, and the movie’s gradual progression from day to night gives the movie a very noirish feel. Fare really is a stunning debut feature from the very talented Thomas Torrey, and it will be very interesting to see what he does next. Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Narcopolis (UK 2015: Dir Justin Trefgarne)

The future is clearly not very bright, and you only need to wear shades to avoid detection in newcomer Justin Trefgarne's murky but not totally unenjoyable sci-fi/time travel thriller.

The director has created a world set largely in 2024 which doesn't look too different from our own, except that all recreational drugs have been legalised, so that large swathes of the city (unnamed, but filmed in Swansea, Wales) population remain either blissed out or criminally desperate for their next fix.The city is policed by 'drecks' - so named because they clear up all the messes others don't want to. Narcopolis focuses its story on one of these cops, Frank Grieves - an embittered ex druggie with a messy family life and the accidental shooting of his boss haunting his past - who we first meet investigating a corpse with half its face missing, whose records don't show up on the police databases.

As the film widens out it takes in time travel elements, corrupt cops, an evil drugs corporation called Ambro (presumably short for Ambrosia) who have cornered the market in drug supply while testing a new strain on unwilling victims, and family drama. It's difficult to explain much more without giving some key parts of the plot away, but it's safe to say that while it doesn't end happily there is at least a drawing together of these strands.

Trefgarne holds off pulling these elements together for most of the film's running time which can make it a bit of a headscratcher (although if you've seen any time travel movies you'll probably guess one of the plot reveals quite early). This is a bold move, but the confusing events are anchored by some good if downplayed acting (Elliot Cowan as Grieves is suitably world weary) and the director's decision to render the world not as a CGI dominated futuropolis but rather a noirish network of alleys and roadways - with empty warehouse locations kept to a minimum - is a sensible one within the limits of budget. However at times, with its I-know-it-didn't-cost-much-but-here's-some-fast-editing-and-extreme-close-ups-to-compensate look, this makes Narcopolis look like a slightly more expensive version of an episode of Spooks.

Dystopian sci fi is not new and technically there isn't anything particularly innovative in Narcopolis. It also has an at times rather shaky script and some of the support acting is a little underdone. But it's good to see a reasonably convincing world of the future produced on a minuscule budget, and let's face it good to see any Brit sci-fi on our screens. Not bad.