THE STORY – A drug trafficker organizes a smuggling operation while a recovering addict seeks the truth behind her son’s disappearance.
THE CAST – Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, Lily-Rose Depp, Scott Mescudi & Martin Donovan
THE TEAM – Nicholas Jarecki (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 118 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
The opioid crisis has been rapidly increasing in America over the last couple of years, especially since filmmaker Nicholas Jarecki’s last film, his feature debut “Arbitrage” (2012). Now, he’s back in the director’s chair, nine years later, to tell this sprawling story that recalls the work of Michael Mann, Steven Soderbergh and Kathryn Bigelow. It’s a taut thriller that juggles three storylines and attempts to fully capture the wide reach that the opioid crisis has cast over all of us. While Jarecki does not fully achieve what he sets out to do, it’s still an entertaining watch backed by intense urgency and strong performances from its cast.
“Crisis” begins with a drug bust, up in the snowy mountains at the U.S./Canadian border by Montreal. We do not yet know its significance to the overall story but that will eventually become clear to us later. We then head over to Detroit, Michigan, where an undercover cop, Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer), is working with the Armenians to pull off a drug deal that will hopefully catch them in the act and bring down their opioid operation. While he’s attempting this, he also has to contend with his sister (Lily-Rose Depp), who is an oxy addict herself. Meanwhile, Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly) is a former oxy addict whose 16-year-old son has gone missing and she eventually finds out he has tragically died of an overdose. She knows that her son never took drugs, which leaves her frustrated and confused. She eventually sets off on a vigilante mission to seek answers for how her son died. And then there is Dr. Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman), a well-respescted professor and scientist who has discovered that a new non-addictive painkiller called Klaradon is not decreasing dependence but increasing it. Facing pressure from the drug’s pharmaceutical company and from his own boss (Greg Kinnear), Tyrone must decide if he’s going to become a whistleblower and expose the truth in an effort to save thousands of lives before the drug gets approved by the FDA and it is too late. Much like Steve Soderbergh’s Oscar-winning drug-thriller “Traffic,” all of these stories are indirectly tied to each other and sometimes they intersect and sometimes they do not. But they’re all connected to the same crisis.
Shot with cool tones that match the pills users take themselves, “Crisis” is a well-made film by Jarecki. It juggles its three main plotlines well, constantly cutting back and forth between them and carrying with them a solid amount of momentum in the storytelling that deftly builds to a natural climax for all three. There’s nothing wrong with Jarecki’s execution and all of the actors do a suitable job of guiding us through what could’ve been an overly complicated story. However, that’s the problem: the story. There’s nothing in “Crisis” that we haven’t seen before. The undercover cop attempting to pull off a sting operation, the vigilante who is looking for revenge due to the death of her son, an esteemed professor and scientist who becomes a whistleblower in the face of a large pharmaceutical company. All of these elements are borrowed from other great films and filmmakers who came before Jarecki (there’s even a use of The Rolling Stones “Can You Hear Me Knocking?” that obviously reminds us of the work of Martin Scorsese) and the film can’t ever stand on its own as a result.
While “Crisis” rarely ever slogs in its pacing, its storytelling is hallow due to its familiarity. Jarecki applies a controlled hand elsewhere and had this been a documentary (which the ending titles almost suggest it should’ve been), it might’ve been able to capture the scope of what Jarecki was after. There’s no denying that the opioid crisis is backed by a corrupt system that is far-reaching, with far too many layers of complexity to break down in a single film, much less one that is less than two hours long. If, as the movie shows, the truth, brute force, or even our own compassionate sensibilities can’t stop the crisis, what hope does Jarecki have with this film to bring awareness to the issue? Sometimes some stories are too big.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Solid performances from everyone involved. Nicholas Jarecki balances the storylines well and gives the film a much needed sense of urgency and momentum.