Photo | “Crisis” – Burn Later Productions
An amazingly stacked cast elevates the thriller “Crisis,” an elaborately plotted drama about the many factors contributing to the ongoing opioid pandemic. Gary Oldman, Greg Kinnear, Armie Hammer and a particularly fine Evangeline Lilly portray different cogs in the machine, making some people untold fortunes and destroying hundreds of thousands of lives in the process.
The overlapping plotlines show the opioid machine working at a micro and macro level. Lilly plays a recovering addict who loses her teenage son and wants to find and destroy a single responsible person. Meanwhile, Oldman is Dr. Tyrone Brower, a science professor hired to independently evaluate a new pain drug Big Pharma is eager to bring to market. Brower faces a crisis of conscience over his findings, while the pharma muscle does not seem to have a conscience as far as silencing his research.
While that story shows us the big picture of how these drugs infiltrate people’s lives, Lilly’s character, Claire Reimann, evokes the personal toll. Reimann is a successful architect, single mom and recovered opioid addict. We first meet her as she is describing how, when she was on drugs, she could not be there for her wonderful little son. Now he is a promising, teen athlete and her worst nightmare comes true when he dies of an ostensible drug overdose.
Lilly is heart-wrenching, effective and believable as she tries to connect the dots of her son’s life that led to that terrible moment. Meanwhile, Hammer bridges the personal and political aspects of the epidemic as Jake Kahane, a determined DEA agent trying to bring down a massive Canadian-American fentanyl smuggling ring led by a dude named, rather generically, “Mother.”
When the film begins, Hammer is just barking, cursing and making covert cell phone calls to a couple of guys who look confusingly similar. But I have to say, “Crisis” picks up steam and, once you get a handle on everyone, you care what happens to them. It is a lesser version of the Steven Soderbergh classic “Traffic,” right down to Hammer’s personal stake in the opioid war — his sister, played by Lily-Rose Depp in a minuscule role, is an addict. Not even Soderbergh could make another film as good as “Traffic,” and the writer/director Nicholas Jarecki, whose earlier film “Arbitrage” covered the financial crisis, has also not done so.
The emotional performances save the film from becoming too preachy, and it functions successfully as a crime thriller even when it’s not giving the viewer something to think about. Or if you’re not in the mood for thinking. Credibility is not always flawless with some of the motivations and plot twists, but it wasn’t boring. Oldman’s plotline suffered the most from characters spouting unlikely things, but he can still sell pretty much anything. Hampered by fake science stuff, fake FDA stuff and fake university stuff, his storyline was important to show the viewers how we got here, but he has to work pretty hard to make it believable.
“Crisis” is one of those increasingly rare action films devoid of humor or irony; it is a straight dramatic action thriller. If you want a crime-action movie these days, most of them are either improved or diluted, depending on the film, by self-aware comedy. “Crisis” plays it straight, and most of the time it is a compelling, exciting and heartbreaking look at the machinations of the opioid epidemic, especially when it puts talented faces on the staggering numbers involved.
“Crisis” is currently available to stream.
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