Three stories about the world of opioids collide: a drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation between Canada and the U.S., an architect recovering from an OxyContin addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s involvement with narcotics, and a university professor battles unexpected revelations about his research employer, a drug company with deep government influence bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market.
It nothing else, you have to commend the ambition on display in Nicholas Jarecki’s Crisis, a look at the modern opioid epidemic from various perspectives. Taking a page from Stephen Soderbergh’s Traffic, the filmmaker casts a wide narrative net, looking not only at the source of this problem, but examining its impact on various victims and multiple efforts to combat it. Fentanyl is the pebble; Jarecki is examining the ripples it creates. For the most part, it’s not an overly original exercise, pointing out the obvious, ultimately offering little in the way of solutions or narrative innovation.
Detective Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer) has a personal interest in investigating the drug trade in Detroit city. His sister (Lily Rose-Depp) is struggling with an addiction that’s nearly incapacitated her. His going undercover to bring down a cartel shepherding large shipments of illegal drugs from Canada to the United States borders on the obsessive. However, his mania pales in comparison to that of Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly), who’s bent on tracking down the dealer who supplied her son with the drugs that killed him. Meanwhile, Dr. Tyrone Bower (Gary Oldman) is facing a crisis of conscience-his findings in a recent study show serious addictive qualities in a drug a major pharmaceutical company is about to start production on. That this corporation has funded his research is only part of his quandary; that he may face jail time and ruin his career if he reports his findings to the FDA is the other.
That these three plotlines will ultimately converge is a given and while the subject matter is rife with potentially gripping dramatic possibilities, Jarecki proceeds in a rather pedestrian manner. There’s a surprising lack of urgency to the entire affair, as if the characters are simply plodding along, hitting their expected marks in a hackneyed screenplay…which is exactly what’s happening. The plotlines involving Hammer and Lilly are predictable from the start and are hobbled by obvious performances from the two screen veterans. While some of their woes can be blamed on the cliched dialogue they’re saddled with, Hammer’s turn is of particular note, his line readings obvious, his dramatic moments one-note and forced throughout.
As uninspired as these two plot threads are, the third revolving around Oldman’s beleaguered man of science is far more inspired. Concentrating on the research end of this scourge is a fresh approach, the ethical questions intriguing. The Oscar-winner is supported by Greg Kinnear as the college dean at the university where Bower does his research and the two screen veterans bring an urgency and sincerity to the film the other two sections sorely lack. The implications of Bower turning state’s evidence to reveal his findings and the far-reaching corruption that reveals itself-at the governmental and corporate levels- when he threatens to do so, is sobering. Had Jarecki concentrated solely on this aspect of the story, he might have produced something far more compelling than the mishmash he has here.
The film ends with the sort of pre-credits crawl we’ve become accustomed to with fact-based dramas such as this. Jarecki shares with us statistics regarding the number of deaths that have resulted from the opioid crisis, the amount of money made by big pharma and other facts and figures meant to stoke our outrage. To be sure, this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but in a far better movie that Crisis, a pretentious film that ultimately collapses under the weight of its own nobility, hammering home its theme with a sledgehammer.
The opioid crisis isn’t a new problem, but it seems to be an enduring one. “Crisis” highlights this as we watch three very different worlds intersect, collide, and explode thanks to the greed at the expense of those who can’t benefit. From the prestigious educational community and big pharmaceutical companies to illegal activity and innocent bystanders becoming victims, “Crisis” is a complicated and gripping tale that could easily be based in truth and reality.
Gary Oldman stars as Dr. Tyrone Brower, a researcher at a university who is running tests on a new pharmaceutical that is being touted as non-addictive, wiping out the negative impact of opioids. It’s promising, to say the least, and is certainly the golden child of the company. However, Brower finds differing results; information that could preclude this company from FDA approval and billions of dollars in profit. The pressure is on to look the other way by Brower’s superiors at the university, but the consequences weigh heavily, knowing the endgame. Meanwhile, DEA agents lead by Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer) are closing in on a huge underground drug network and a former addict Claire (Evangeline Lilly) and mother of a straight-laced teen finds herself mourning her son’s death which is connected to this sordid illegal yet lucrative drug world.
We see the three stories unfold separately but along the same timeline, creating an intense thriller that takes us down gritty roads and those paved in gold. Brower’s story is one of morality or more aptly a David vs. Goliath situation with no weapons other than words which prove to be just as powerful. Claire’s nightmare plummets into unchartered territory of foreign drug lords, the very group the DEA is attempting to shut down. While some of this story pushes the limits of probability, what it does do is remind us of how opioids infiltrate all worlds. And that’s exactly what writer and director Nicholas Jarecki wants us to remember. This is a very real problem, affecting millions of people from all walks of life all to make the rich get richer.
To give the story credibility, much of the weight falls perhaps unintentionally on Oldman’s lap. He portrays an every day person who has made mistakes in his life, but as he looks carefully into his heart, mistakes must not be made again. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy and his character overtly and intrinsically struggles with this. Oldman has a way of letting viewers into his mindset, inviting them to walk in his character’s shoes as we question whether or not we would have the fortitude to do the right thing. His nemesis is Dean Geoff Talbot (Greg Kinnear), his boss who easily succumbs to the pressure from the pharmaceutical company who, unsurprisingly, donates money to the school. Again, big money means having a greater power to influence others. Kinnear’s innocent looks are deceiving as his character effortlessly delves into disingenuous behavior to acquire the end results. Kinnear also finds the humanity in this character and in many ways is just the antithesis to the Brower character.
Lilly has one of the most arduous tasks of creating a character with a past which haunts her who fears she may be the direct cause of her son’s demise. It’s an emotional performance which, like Oldman, allows us to experience her pain and suffering even when the storyline pushes the envelope of believability for her character. While Hammer is adequate as the tough and brilliant undercover DEA agent with all the answers, it’s rather one dimensional in nature, not a nuanced performance in the least. Thankfully, the Brower storyline elevates the overall film and message while we sit back and allow the thriller to unfold.
“Crisis” feels like a biopic using broad brushstrokes of poetic license to give it that Hollywood feel as it delivers an old message in new form. Oldman and Lilly shine in this crime thriller, but it’s the humanity and less obvious situations that are the most captivating of all.