In the vein of Steven Soderbergh’s narcotics opus Traffic, Nicholas Jarecki’s Crisis follows three different storylines attacking the opioid epidemic from different angles: big pharma, law enforcement, and street user. Someday, someone will make a definitive film about the opioid epidemic in America, but Crisis is not that movie. Written and directed by Jarecki, it swings between too dry and histrionic, with a melodramatic, too-pat ending that belies the early procedural tone of the film. The three arcs of the film center on Dr. Tyrone Power (Gary Oldman), a university research scientist who attempts to blow the whistle on a potentially harmful new opioid called Klaralon; Claire (Evangeline Lilly), a recovered addict whose son dies of a suspicious overdose; and Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer), an undercover DEA agent desperately trying to tie together traffickers in Canada and the US.
I am not going to lie, it is WILD watching Armie Hammer in a movie right now. There is one scene in which he restrains his strung-out sister (Lily-Rose Depp) on a bed and it is impossible not to think of all the damning DMs and alleged abuse he hid in (bad) BDSM practice. But Hammer is one of the bigger problems within the film, and not just for his recent off-screen troubles (though he has been completely demoted out of promotion for the film, despite being one of the leads). He’s wildly miscast as a paranoid agent at the end of his rope. Following his failed blockbuster attempt of the early 2010s, Hammer remade his career with a series of character roles that leaned into his preppy, country club image. Those roles worked because they allowed him to look like what he is—a scion of American industry—while playing varying degrees of bonkers characters high on their own self-importance. Jake Kelly, though, is a streetwise cop hiding among the worst of the worst drug traffickers. This is a Donnie Brasco style role, but Hammer lacks the ability to disappear into the character-within-the-character. Even scruffed up and dressed down, he’s not believable. He would have fit better into the boardrooms of Gary Oldman’s plot.
Crisis isn’t terrible, it’s just not much of anything. If the three stories were separated into their own films, they would each work better. As I mentioned, the Jake Kelly story would make for a decent Donnie Brasco-esque crime drama, and the Klaralon story could be The Insider but for opioids instead of tobacco. The best thread in Crisis, though, belongs to Evangeline Lilly as grieving mother Claire. Her story would have made for a solid, Taken-style thriller, and if it sounds preposterous, never forget that a local pharmacist once traced the drugs that resulted in his son’s death and not only did he find a pill mill, he also stumbled into an actual DEA sting. It’s entirely believable that an obsessive, bereaved parent could follow that thread down a dark and winding road and find something incredible on the other end, and Lilly does a good job capturing the agonized commitment Claire has to finding out what really happened to her son. I would have liked to see a movie just about Claire instead of Crisis.
As is, Crisis shortchanges each of its stories so that none of them amount to much. Characters never get a chance to grow beyond single trait archetypes, and while the acting makes up for a lot, it can’t fix the empty heart at the center of the film. Worse, for a film about an ongoing and ever-worsening epidemic with no end in sight, Crisis has a surprisingly happy ending. It ends with a postscript reminding everyone the incredible damage opioids do every day, but it feels like Crisis needs that reminder to make up for how well everything works out for everyone. Well, Claire’s son is still dead. I’m not saying it’s a perfect ending but given the messiness and real-world lack of resolution for the opioid epidemic, Crisis feels too simplistic to truly do it justice. If Crisis is aiming for the complexity and moral compromise of Traffic, then it misunderstood the assignment.
Crisis is available on demand from March 5.