Written and directed by Saeed Roustayi, the police are after a drug lord named Naser Khakzad, but when they finally manage to catch him, he tries whatever he can think of to escape and save his family. Starring: Payman Maadi, Navid Mohammadzadeh, Parinaz Izadyar, Farhad Aslani, Houman Kiai, Maziar Seyedi, Ali Bagheri, Marjan Ghamari and Yusef Khosravi.
The interesting thing about crime films is that you don’t have to have likable or sympathetic characters, it can be all about atmosphere, thrill, violence or anticipation, but you do need to create at least one of those qualities. Law of Tehran feels like it struggles with that concept, its characters are all very intense, arrogant and aggressive, so sympathy mostly goes out the window but it’s not building a solid foundation of danger, tension or suspense to make up for that.
On paper this story works, it’s got the chase and the classic butting heads between criminal and cop but its execution is lacking. The pacing is going in the opposite direction of where it should be, it’s not pushing forward, it’s dragging its feet. The plot also extends way past the point you’re likely expecting and in doing so, exhausts itself long before it reaches the end.
Part of the problem is that its tone is really throwing itself at you from the start and that’s a very difficult thing to sustain for a two hour runtime. Its opening chase gives you the idea that this is going to be an action packed thriller but it’s actually almost entirely focused on dialogue, which is a bit of a let down. Paired with that it’s hitting the same note over and over all throughout those two hours, it’s difficult to stay glued in.
What Saeed Roustayi is creating here is not a crime story, or at least not in the way you’d think, it’s an exploration of society, class, poverty and family. The problem is that it’s not presenting itself in that way, it doesn’t build the emotional depth or sincerity that its themes call out for. Although interestingly, the everyday quality to the aesthetic and editing do match that tone much better than the story itself.
Another part of the struggle to build an emotional basis are the performances from Payman Maadi and Navid Mohammadzadeh. Both great actors in their own right but the portrayals of these characters don’t feel real, honest or raw, they feel overly constructed. Maadi’s Samad doesn’t have room to manoeuvre, it’s constantly more of the same, he does add in a few nice notes of intelligence but otherwise it’s simple brute force. Mohammadzadeh’s Naser on the other hand is absolutely all over the place, the back and forth between portraying him as a heartless, entitled drug lord, and trying to build sympathy for him is frustrating.
You can see the intention behind it to show the sort of men that this society fosters and opening a discussion about choices in such a harsh environment. However, it doesn’t work well and it eventually takes over the entire film, shifting the focus in a clumsy way. Surprisingly the most consistently entertaining and well done performance here comes from Farhad Aslani in a relatively small role. He strikes a likable but forthright tone that adds the exact type of sincerity that the film is mostly missing. Special mention also has to go to Yusef Khosravi, this young actor throws everything he has into his performance and creates multiple memorable moments for the film.
Law of Tehran has an interesting idea to take your usual cop vs criminal and turn it into an ethical debate about how we are shaped by the society we live in. Unfortunately it doesn’t feel like the entire film is succinct in exploring those themes. The story is paced frustratingly slowly and draws itself out much further than it needed to. If it could have built a foundation of emotional complexity then this would work very well but it plays out like a traditional crime story and hits that singular note over and over.