sat 15/06/2024

Law of Tehran review - visceral Iranian police thriller | reviews, news & interviews

Law of Tehran review - visceral Iranian police thriller

Law of Tehran review - visceral Iranian police thriller

Life on the mean streets of urban Iran brought vividly to life

Banged up: drug lord Naser (Navid Mohammadzadeh) threatens revenge

Here in Europe we mainly see subtle, lyrical Iranian films, targeted at international festivals or art house audiences, so it’s great to get the chance to see Law of Tehran, a gritty and relentless police thriller that was a hit in its home country in 2019.  

Saeed Roustayi cast Payman Maadi (pictured below, and best known here from Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation) as Samad, a ruthless officer determined to take down the drug dealers who enslave Tehran’s army of addictsWe first meet Samad on a police raid that rapidly turns into a dynamic chase through the city’s serpentine alleys and ends with a grim twist.

Over the next two hours Roustayi paints a blistering portrait of high-level corruption, moral ambiguity and desperate lives in thrall to opiates. At times Law of Tehran is reminiscent of pre-revolutionary Iranian revenge dramas, like Masud Kimiai’s stupendous Gheisar (1969) and The Deer (1974).  It’s also a window into life on the margins in modern day Iran. The film’s original title, Just 6.5 refers to the country’s estimated millions of drug addicts.  Roustayi sets scenes in the dungeon like cells where those unlucky enough to have been caught using, are crammed together.

One location, a shooting gallery in a building yard filled with cement pipes, is a vision of hell. The director used non-professional actors in some  scenes, men with their own experiences of the cycle of addiction and arrest; there’s certainly a strong sense of authenticity coming from the broken bodies and ravaged faces on screen. One strand sees  grotesquely fat men hired to swallow drugs wrapped in plastic, their excess flesh making the smuggled packets harder to spot by X-ray.

Samad, a senior officer in the Anti Narcotics Police Task Force is leading an operation to catch Naser (Navid Mohammadzadeh) the kingpin who is pumping drugs into the city.  He’s ensconced in his high-rise luxury apartment, a stark contrast from the hellish streets below. When the squad find Naser, in a superbly tense scene, they almost lose him. But even when Naser is behind bars, his ability to manipulate, bribe and corrupt all around him, makes him no less of a threat. There’s little trust between the members of the drug squad and the air is heavy with suspicion. 

Roustayi directs kinetic action sequences that would see him snapped up by Hollywood but he’s also a master of meaty dialogue scenes set in offices and courtrooms that flesh out the lead characters. Samad’s partner Hamid (Houman Kiai) is bent on revenge for his dead child, victim of a drug lord.  Samad can’t get promotion unless he’s married to a wife he no longer loves. 

Law of Tehran has all the pleasures of a French policier with its charismatic detectives outwitting ingenious criminals. There are twists and turns and spectacular standoffs that wouldn't shame Don Siegel, William Friedkin or Sidney Lumet. It also boasts a night-time execution sequence that Busby Berkeley would have been proud to choreograph, if he’d ever taken up film noir. If your main awareness of Iranian cinema comes from the cerebral films of Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi and Asgar Farhadi, Law of Tehran is a revelation and a subtle commentary on the country's current regime. 

Roustayi's kinetic action sequences would see him up snapped up by Hollywood


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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