27 Apr 2022
Gurj Gill, Jason Adam, Nisaro Karim
Written and directed by filmmaker Sheikh Shahnawaz, BLUFF is a revealing feature film that exposes the cruel reality of drug addiction in the UK. London police officer, Detective Sergeant Daniel Miller, goes undercover as a heroin addict in a small English town and infiltrates an unsuspecting drug circle to bring down an incognito drug dealer. Whilst trying to keep up pretences, Miller’s assignment pushes him to his ethical limits, as multiple levels of manipulation, deception and taking advantage take hold.
Miller must blend in with his surroundings and uncover drug networks in order to alert the police. At the start of the film, the viewer is provided with plenty of information and then the script cuts back and forth to reveal character motive and what exactly is going on. Plot-wise, this film is a little far-fetched but ultimately provides a clever concept for a crime film, due to continual suspicion and red herrings. Miller also befriends Cooks, a local homeless man with a heroin addiction, and the two bond over their apparent enjoyment of drugs. Cooks, who trusts Miller almost instantly and strikes up a close friendship, gives valuable insight into the local drug scene as well as being the crux to the film’s harrowing commentary on drug addiction and street homelessness.
He also leads Miller to discover Imran, a local drug supplier, who for some reason is not on the police’s radar and they set about befriending him too. The acting feels a bit wooden in parts, maybe in part due to the script occasionally stiffening up in some scenes, but Gurj Gill’s impressive performance ensures that Miller’s inner turmoil is always present. Likewise, his chemistry with Nisaro Karim (Imran) is palpable as the two men agree over shared childhood experiences and disagree over others. Whilst the cutting back and forth between scenes is confusing in parts, it suddenly all falls into place and the realities of corrupt systems are laid bare in a shocking and cruel way. Miller’s occasional narration to guide the viewer through more challenging scenes and key moments that he is reminiscing on is an emotive testimony. It feels angry and bitter, but not without immense feeling.
Production-value wise, the film is very good-looking with a steady variation of camera shots that provide an overwhelming sense of Miller’s internal struggles as he gets too deep undercover. The camera is often dark and brooding when focusing on him, with lots of shadows falling across his face in the more intense scenes. These, coupled with numerous surveillance shots of the cast as he watches them go about their business feels invasive and works very well. All of this combined paints a delicate and dangerous picture of the psychology of being – or becoming – embroiled in a drug-fuelled world, without romanticising or embellishing the experience.
Ultimately, we begin to question the reliability of our narrator as Miller’s perspective becomes more and more warped. His personal experiences of guilt and trauma all wrapped up in a want for justice is admirable even if it does become misguided. BLUFF is a commentary on the suffering that comes with the ‘war on drugs’ and is a bleak and cautionary tale that is worth a watch.
This is Sheikh Shahnawaz’s first feature film and it will be exciting to see what projects he embarks upon next.