Bluff Image


By Michael Talbot-Haynes | April 11, 2022

Writer-director Sheikh Shahnawaz’s powerhouse feature debut, Bluff, is a gritty heroin epic set in a junked-out English concrete jungle. Detective Miller (Gurj Gill) is going undercover as a street junkie named Danny, with only his commander, Collins (James Jaysen Bryhan), knowing about it. They want to take down the drug network of the area but are worried some of their fellow cops may be involved. So no one except Collins knows Danny is a cop, which means if he finds himself in a bad situation, he will need to bluff his way out.

Now, Danny starts showing his craggy face around town, with a cover of having to flee London. He befriends street addict Cooks (Jason Adam), who helps him score his first hits of gear (aka heroin and crack). Suddenly time jumps forward a year or so, with Danny now a well-groomed dealer for Imran (Nisaro Karim), the top narcotics distributor. Picking up his gear from enforcer Neil (Joe Egan), Danny deals out of his snazzy car with Cooks keeping watch in the backseat. Except now Cooks knows that Danny is a detective and discusses it aloud when no one else is around.

Jump back a year. Danny is trying to get Cooks to hook him up with Imran. Cooks would rather shoot up on the pavement and pass out than get involved with the kneecap-breaking druglord. Danny lies to Cooks about the dire need to support his habit. Jump ahead to well-groomed dealer Danny being told by Collins that the investigation is closing. Collins feels Danny is being degenerated by the undercover work too much. Danny informs Collins that he is so close. Jump back to the disheveled street Danny and Cooks going to the pub Imran owns, even though they are risking their lives. And so the see-saw of past and future bounce back and forth until the inevitable catastrophe is reached.

“…no one except Collins knows Danny is a cop…”

After several short films, Shahnawaz produced, wrote, directed, edited, and shot Bluff. He turns in strong work turned for every discipline. His cinematography captures the bleak, washed-out landscape of hard drugs. Everything is cigarette ash-colored and broken; angles are sharp enough to saw one of Cook’s lager cans in half. As editor, the filmmaker keeps the beat tight, cutting only when it’s right. As a result, the transitions across time are seamless. The switch is only noticeable by the changes in clothing and hairstyles.

Shahnawaz’s screenplay is very clever, as he structures the narrative with the first and third act running toward the pivotal second. The cutting up of the plot increases the engagement and adds gravity to the penultimate calamity awaiting in act two. The hairpin twist elevates your perceptions of both story ends like slamming into gear; really good gear.

Undercover cops live on lies, and Gill’s performance of Detective Miller performing as “Danny” is dead on. Adam kills it as Cooks, portraying the 21st-century gentleman junkie in a way that gets your sympathy without going for your wallet. Karim is spooky as hell as the heroin honcho, building many dimensions into his fine spin as a knee snapping dope cobra. The players work perfectly with the clever script whose parallel structure allows them opportunities beyond those usually found in underworld crime thrillers.

Bluff dispenses its observations of the hard drug pyramids organically into the flow of the story, showing all the dead ends of the narco-maze. The movie is an excellent opiate opera with fantastic performances by a needle-sharp cast. Its ingenious use of cutting up the action to enhance the potency would make William S. Burroughs proud. Prepare to be hooked.

Bluff (2022)

Directed and Written: Sheikh Shahnawaz

Starring: Gurj Gill, Jason Adam, Nisaro Karim, James Jaysen Bryhan, Joe Egan, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

Bluff Image

"…excellent opiate opera with fantastic performances by a needle-sharp cast."

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