Movie Review: “Crisis” (2021)

There are excellent, in-depth, incredible cinematic takes on the drug war. When one watches writer/director/producer Nicholas Jarecki’s “Crisis” it is easy to see exactly how it attempts to fit in the pantheon. Unfortunately, even if one ignores the rest of the subgenre, this movie never quite succeeds.

We are treated here to three main stories involving painkillers, all of which overlap to some extent. There’s the tale of a middling scientist (Gary Oldman) at a small university who works with a drug company, furthering their research. There’s the tale of an undercover federal agent (Armie Hammer) who wants to stop a cross-border Fentanyl smuggling between the U.S. and Canada. There’s the story of a mother, a recovering addict (Evangeline Lilly), who just wants to find out what happened to her son.

As is sometimes the case, however, when there are too many tales to be told in a single film, none of these play out with the depth or nuance or care required to make an impact. The scientist, the mother, and the agent’s tales could easily be their own film without issue. In fact, we’ve seen those sorts of movies as well. Every time during this movie that we sit there and think that an element of one of the stories is going to be really and truly explored, that conversations are going to go deep enough to matter, we flip to one of the other tales rather than getting that exploration.

The result is that the cast here—and the supporting group includes Indira Varma, Greg Kinnear, Michelle Rodriguez, Kid Cudi, and more—only ever get to offer up the most bare bones, basic, sketches rather than fully realized individuals. So, Oldman’s Dr. Tyrone Brower finds himself in a fight with Kinnear’s Dean Geoff Talbot about going public on research that reflects negatively on a drug company. Talbot throws out old bromides about how in his role he has to think of the university and students and staff rather than all the lives that will be lost if Brower is right. It is a completely expected rebuttal that is also nonsensical. Brower’s sordid history ends up coming into play as the story continues and it all becomes both horrifying (as he has done bad things) and laughable in execution. While the goal may be to make Brower human, the result is to turn him into a jumbled mess of half considered ideas. Regrettably, Brower is the most fleshed out of the lead triumvirate.

Hammer’s Jake Kelly has a complicated drug deal story that never quite makes sense and tries to loop in far too many groups of bad guys. Additionally, he’s got personal problems as his sister is a recovering addict. This is an attempt to round out the character and give him history and a personal stake, but it never quite works.

Lilly’s Claire Reimann finds herself on some half-cocked quest for revenge which, somehow, winds up crossing paths with Kelly’s case in a way that makes anyone watching wonder why the police haven’t tied up these baddies years ago. Lilly is quite good at giving us a woman who is spinning out due to her loss, but “Crisis” is far less convincing at putting her in a situation to affect the film’s climax. Or, that part of the film’s climax.

When combined, these tales are designed to create tapestry through which we can see the real-world issues with which we have to come to grips. It is a lofty and admirable goal. Even if it isn’t a new take, this nation’s opioid addiction is doing serious damage to a huge number of people (as the film makes clear in the postscript), and needs to be repeatedly acknowledged until we make real improvement.

Although Brower’s tale may be the most intriguing, all of three prongs of the film offer the sense that they could make for something truly devastating and informative, that they could each find a way to cause us to think about the world differently and do something better. In the end, they don’t.

As I’ve said before, admirable goals and telling an important story do not automatically make a movie great. Here we find stories that may offer up some truths about the world—pharmaceutical companies will continue to act in their best interests, not those of the people who need medication; illegal drug smuggling will continue; and too many will lose their lives due to addiction—but “Crisis” feels like a failed opportunity to further those discussions and to open our eyes. It isn’t bad, just disappointing.

photo credit: Quiver Distribution

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