REVIEW: Crisis [2021]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 118 minutes
    Release Date: February 26th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Quiver Distribution
    Director(s): Nicholas Jarecki
    Writer(s): Nicholas Jarecki

We can’t quit.

There’s little room to find hope in the ongoing and extremely deadly opioid crisis that’s afflicting our country. How could there be when we’re talking about a legal drug being manufactured by multi-billion-dollar corporations? They want authorities to track down the illegal outfits buying prescriptions from the poor to then sell it back to addicts and the authorities want to comply since a government ruled by lobbyists supplementing career politicians’ salaries with million-dollar incentives isn’t conducive to hitting the source. No, the only way to get them is through whistleblowing and the consciences of men and women refusing to see the toll of the product they complicitly push out into the world as numbers on a spreadsheet. But what are they in the grand scheme of things? Nothing.

Accepting that reality might seem nihilistic, but it’s difficult to argue it’s not true. Anyone who watches the news knows it and there’s even more who know someone or someone who knows someone that overdosed themselves. Count writer/director Nicholas Jarecki amongst the latter because that personal connection is a big reason why he decided to do the research and dig into how insidious this epidemic has become. And we can tell he did the work too because his film Crisis is nothing if not detail oriented as far as understanding the ins and outs of all sides whether addiction, the science, undercover operations, or smugglers. How many other subjects can link a suburban mom, DEA agent, and tenured professor together in ways they don’t even realize?

It’s in that link, however, that the flaws of Jarecki’s script are also exposed. While the first two (Evangeline Lilly‘s grieving mother Claire Reimann and Armie Hammer‘s operative Jake Kelly) are easy to connect when dealing with an untouchable mob boss (Guy Nadon‘s Quebecois “Mother”) devoid of morality if money can fill its void, not even he can weave the third (Gary Oldman‘s Dr. Tyrone Brower) onto their paths. How they work together is thus in the abstract since the former pair is embroiled in Fentanyl while the latter is dealing with a fictitious drug known as Klaralon. Both are opioids and both are evolutions piggybacked off of Oxycodone. They’re proof that when the media demonizes one, another pops up in its place with generally worse results.

Keeping these two segments of the same world separate despite constantly cross-cutting them wouldn’t be a problem if Jarecki wasn’t also pulling double duty in each thread. Not only is Claire mourning the loss of her son, but she is also a recovering addict. Not only is Jake desperate to take down an international syndicate, his sister (Lily-Rose Depp) is also in the throes of her own unyielding battle with heroin. And not only is Tyrone trying to reconcile his need for “blood money” to advance his research and the knowledge that doing good with it is different than silencing himself from speaking about how it was earned, but we’re thrust into the boardroom of pharmaceutical juggernaut Northlight to meet the shady utilitarian entrepreneurs anointing themselves as saints.

That’s a lot to keep track of and, to his credit, Jarecki does a pretty decent job in allowing us to stay on task with each subplot as they converge and diverge. The unfortunate byproduct of injecting so much real-world information into such a sprawling dramatic thriller, however, is that it becomes nearly impossible to emotionally invest in any of it. Rather than let Claire be motivated by revenge and Jake by duty, their proximity to addiction tries to force guilt as the driving force for both in ways that can’t quite click thanks to the script’s necessity to split time equally. Plot becomes paramount to character and that’s fine as long as you don’t expect us to care about character more. Our interest is therefore intellectual instead.

Is that going to lose a lot of viewers’ attention? Sure. Audiences like to be entertained by fictional accounts of reality. They don’t necessarily want to “learn” when a documentary on the subject would be more illuminating. Crisis therefore exists in a sort of no man’s land in-between because its entertainment is a direct result of its educational value. Besides Claire (most of her trajectory demands a liberal amount of suspension of disbelief on behalf of how her private investigator knows more than the DEA—a thematic through-line pitting careers “doing a job” against heroes “doing the right thing” isn’t enough), I found myself involved in the suspense precisely because of how the systems being followed and rejected played out. The inherent bureaucracy held the intrigue.

Will Tyrone going to the FDA (Scott ‘Kid Cudi’ Mescudi) be enough to put a crack in Northlight big wig Lawrence Morgan’s (Martin Donovan) armor? Will it get the Northlight doctors (Luke Evans and Veronica Ferres) hired to play fast and loose with the rules to blink? How about Jake constantly asking for more resources from his boss (Michelle Rodriguez)? Will she be able to fight against the higher powers to supply what he needs? Or will she just get him to acknowledge the futility of his position as someone paid to take pieces off the board while failing to instill actual change? That Jarecki rejects the notion of change being possible is probably the best aspect of the whole because it highlights how the game is rigged.

That he gets us invested in the motions knowing a “happy ending” isn’t in the cards was enough to earn my attention. The final result being effectively rendered with good performances (Hammer, Lilly, and Oldman all shine even if in service to their stories as opposed to being the driving force behind them) and production design kept it. While I would have liked to have been able to dig deeper into the psychology at play, living with surface actions alone wasn’t an impossible ask. We’re thus experiencing this world through them rather than their experiences within it. And that might be intentional since we need well-researched introductions to the topic’s nuts and bolts as much as dramas amplifying its human cost. Just don’t expect this to be both.

courtesy of Quiver Distribution

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