By Alex McPherson
Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki’s third feature directorial effort, “Crisis,” provides an ambitious and gritty look at America’s opioid epidemic.

Jarecki’s film centers around three individuals experiencing the issue from wildly different angles. Dr. Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman) is a biochemist and university professor testing a new “non-addictive” painkiller developed by Northlight, a large pharmaceutical company.

After running experiments on lab rats, Brower finds that the drug is, in fact, dangerously addictive. Unsurprisingly, both the company and Brower’s university aren’t too pleased with this conclusion. Northlight officials offer Brower’s university a large grant in exchange for falsifying the data — paving the way for its FDA approval. Brower becomes a whistleblower, and he must deal with the repercussions for both his personal and professional life.

Viewers also meet Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer, undergoing his own career in crisis), a law enforcement agent working undercover amidst Armenian and Canadian drug traffickers, the latter of whom is led by a burly sap named Mother (Guy Nadon). Kelly also cares for his unstable, drug-addicted sister, Emmie (Lily Rose-Depp). Pressured to make arrests by his newly hired supervisor, Garrett (Michelle Rodriguez), Kelly and his work partner, Stanley Foster (Jarecki), attempt to set up a sting operation by bringing the two rival groups together. Suffice it to say, complications arise, and the bodies start piling up.

But wait, there’s more! The film follows architect and former addict Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly), who seeks revenge after her teenage son, David (Billy Bryk), is suddenly found dead in broad daylight, after having died from an apparent drug overdose. Reimann soon uncovers a deeper, more sinister plot. She desperately seeks answers as her world crumbles around her.

Whew, and all that unfolds in a two-hour film?! Yes, dear reader, “Crisis” provides a lot to chew on, to say the least. Even though the film’s emotional impact is undermined by a jack-of-all-trades approach, these stories, inspired from true events, still hold a certain power. 

Indeed, I appreciate the topics covered — showing how ordinary people become enveloped in an epidemic pervaded by violence and the preying of those less fortunate. Even though the film’s condemnation of corporate greed and the ways addiction destroys lives isn’t anything particularly new, this is still essential information, packaged into an accessible (though at times bland) thriller/modern noir hybrid.

As the film alternates between these three characters, “Crisis” effectively puts a human face on the suffering inflicted by profiteers on the general population. Reimann stands out in particular. She’s wracked with grief and driven by a fierce, self-destructive determination. We really feel for her, and Lilly’s performance, uncompromising and vivid, stands out from the rest.

Brower’s plotline involves a lot of sitting and talking, but remains compelling throughout. Of course, the shadiness of some pharmaceutical companies has long been clear, and it’s impossible for a single man to stand up to them. It’s easy to see the trajectory of Brower’s story, but the film provides several moments of righteous indignation, where Oldman (always an endearing actor) raises his voice and argues for truth over lies.

That brings us to Kelly. Although Hammer’s portrayal is a bit muted at times, his underlying rage is apparent. It’s a shame, then, that “Crisis” doesn’t let us spend more time with him and his sister outside of his undercover operations. The scenarios he finds himself in feel similar to practically every other crime film I’ve seen. 

What results is a film painted with broad strokes rather than a more focused exploration of any particular character. These stories would have benefited from a television-style format, where specific episodes are devoted to specific characters. Bouncing back and forth between them, “Crisis” doesn’t leave much time for reflection. Add to that a Hollywoodized finale that breaks from reality and ties some characters’ arcs up into a neat bow, and we have a film that ultimately underwhelms.

Similarly, Jarecki’s filmmaking techniques are competent, but they lack flair or a distinctive style — clean and precise without remaining particularly memorable.

All this aside, “Crisis” is still highly watchable, and at times quite suspenseful. It’s a shame that recent revelations about Hammer will likely deter many viewers from watching it, as there’s much to enjoy, especially in regard to Reimann’s journey and Lilly’s heart-wrenching performance.

“Crisis” remains a solid recommendation, despite its overstuffed nature, and tackles subject matter that shouldn’t fade from public consciousness.

“Crisis” is a drama written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, starring Gary Oldman, Evangeline Lilly, Armie Hammer, Lily-Rose Depp, BIlly Bryk and Greg Kinnear. Rated R for drug content, violence, and language throughout, the run time is 1 hour, 58 minutes. It will be released in theaters Feb. 26 and on video on demand March 5. Alex’s Rating: B

By Lynn Venhaus
An unflinching look at the old studio system during the height of Hollywood’s Dream Factory persona, “Mank” is more than a backstory on “Citizen Kane,” pulling back the curtain on some unsavory wheeling-and-dealings of the era.

“Mank” follows screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz’s tumultuous development of Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece in 1941, with flashbacks to old Hollywood in the 1930s, including labor disputes, politics and the studio tycoons.

Director David Fincher, known for his obsessive control, has carefully crafted a portrait of the complicated screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, who died of alcoholism at age 55 in 1953. Mank, a newspaperman from New York, was one of the well-known Algonquin Round Table writers who migrated to Hollywood. He joined such luminaries as playwright George S. Kaufman, humorist S.J. Perlman and Ben Hecht as screenwriters under contract.

 While recovering from a broken leg, Mank is set up at a dusty, desolate ranch in Victorville, Calif., to write the screenplay with a 60-day deadline, free of distractions and surrounded by secrecy. 

John Houseman, who is part of Orson Welles’ fabled Mercury Players, has been assigned to watch over him. Houseman, who really won Best Supporting Actor for “The Paper Chase” in 1974, didn’t seem to be particularly fussy, but Sam Troughton plays him that way. Wunderkind Welles (Tom Burke) will tussle with Mank, but it is their crowning achievement.  

While best known for winning an Oscar for the screenplay of “Citizen Kane,’ which he reluctantly shared with Orson Welles – and was the only winner out of nine nominations, Mank also wrote “Dinner at Eight” and “The Pride of the Yankees,” among dozens of titles, and produced such Marx Brothers movies as “Duck Soup.”

The man himself was a prickly personality, an uncompromising writer with a sardonic wit and a wicked pen, disgruntled by the studio system and the guys who ran them. He did not suffer fools and was wary of those in power. Heavy drinking and gambling had sullied his reputation, but no one could deny his talent.

The cast is one of the finest assembled this year, helmed by Gary Oldman as the bruising wordsmith. It’s a towering portrayal—would we expect anything less from the Oscar winner? Oldman has affected an old-timey delivery for his epic battles with just about everyone but his long-suffering wife, dubbed “Poor Sara” (nicely portrayed by Tuppence Middleton).

The multi-layered story focuses on the ruthless movers-and-shakers – including a terrific Arliss Howard as cunning Louis B. Mayer at M-G-M and a steely Charles Dance as shrewd newspaper publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.

At his castle in San Simeon, Hearst threw lavish dinner parties attended by the show business elite. One of his favorite guests, no matter how drunk or boorish he got, was Mank. The outspoken screenwriter was pals with Hearst’s mistress, actress Marion Davies, who is played by Amanda Seyfried in her best performance to date.

Other noteworthy performances include Ferdinand Kingsley as producer Irving Thalberg, Lily Collins as stenographer Rita Alexander, Jamie McShane as Shelly Metcalf and Ozark’s Tom Pelphrey as Joseph Mankiewicz, Herman’s brother who was also in the business (and wrote “All About Eve.”)

The score by Fincher’s go-to duo of Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor captures the period jazz and Big Band, and

While the meticulous production values are stunning, with its luxe black-and-white cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt, glamorous costume design by Trish Summerville and the grand production design by Donald Graham Burt, the dense plot of “Mank” is likely to keep some moviegoers at a distance. 

As it sprawls beyond the studio gates, the filmd takes detours into the 1934 gubernatorial race in California and industry politics, convoluting an already verbose narrative.

If you are not familiar with the backstory about the making of “Citizen Kane” or the real people on whose lives the characters are based, this may be a problem in digesting “Mank,” a very inside look at Hollywood as an industry who aimed at a market devastated by the Depression.

The director ‘s late father, Jack Fincher, who died in 2003, wrote this screenplay in the 1990s, for the film originally was supposed to be made after “The Game” in 1997. Rumor has it that Eli Roth did some polishing, but whether that’s true, the original script must have had to be reworked at some point.

One thing is certain, Hollywood loves to make movies about the making of movies. Fincher’s lens creates a bigger picture while concentrating on a few key players.

Fascinating, infuriating and rich with details, “Mank” the film is like Mank the person – hard to pin down but worth the time.

“Mank” is a biography-drama directed by David Fincher and starring Gary Oldman, Charles Dance, Arliss Howard, Amanda Seyfried, Tuppence Middleton, Lily Collins and Tom Pelphrey. Rated R for language, “Mank” is 2 hours and 11 minutes’ long. Lynn’s Grade: B-