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
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.