From the first moments of this high-speed Iranian cop thriller, you think you know what it’s about. Drug dealers are bad, cops are a bit rough around the edges but basically good. They’ll struggle and the problem isn’t solvable but they’ll get their man. Saeed Roustayi second feature is much more than it says on the tin.
The opening scene seemed a bit clumsy, with overly dramatic non-diegetic music and expected (and unexpected) clichés of action movies. Gruff cop Samad Majidi (Payman Maadi) shows no weakness in trying to track down the supplier of drugs to the many, many mules and addicts in his precinct. He shouts and bullies, knowing that if he pushes hard enough, someone will give up the name he is looking for. He’s not necessarily a hero though. His bid for promotion in his job is pragmatic rather than principled and he is under investigation for a quantity of drugs that disappeared when in police custody.
His rival for the promotion is Hamid (Houman Kiai), who equals him in belligerence but is consumed with vengeance for the kidnapping and murder of his child. As they clean out a drug den (a stunning scene where people pour from stacked concrete pipes like vermin being flushed from a sewer), they pressure successive people to give them a name. And they do; Nasser Khakzad. When they find him, and his hidden stash of drugs, he has tried to kill himself but, much to his later chagrin, they revive him.
Khakzad (Navid Mohammadzadeh who was so great in Lantouri (2006) and Sound and Fury (2016)) is what you might expect from a successful drug dealer; smug, entitled and sure of his ability to buy his way out. For awhile it seems this might be a battle of wits between him and Majidi, a fight between good and evil. But Roustayi takes the story on a different journey and we see that neither man is quite what they seem.
Although Maadi is a great, solid actor, I found the development of his character less interesting than that of Khakzad. Majidi walks a fine line between corrupt and just doing his job in an unconventional way. You get the feeling he wouldn’t actually be that nice a guy to work with or be married to. His motivations seem disconnected from those around him.
With Khakzad, it is like we are seeing a slow unpeeling of his hardened exterior; not just so that we understand the human side of a criminal but so we can see that there are some aspects of him that are more moral and likeable than Majidi. There are some profoundly moving moments toward the end; the nephew turning cartwheels and being the last to leave the empty room was beautifully realised. The family returning home down the narrow alley way.
I think we are supposed to like Majidi more than I did. His statement at the end about the number of people addicted to drugs – it was one million and now it is 6.5 million – explains the title and shows his real intent and the frustration of stemming an unstoppable tide. The closing scene is a visual coda that underlines how small this story is in scheme of things.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.