Crisis is a 2021 film from writer, director and producer Nicholas Jarecki, who previously brought us 2012’s Arbitrage starring Richard Gere. Crisis is a story about drugs, namely opioids, and follows three separate yet related narratives about opioids and their impact on US society. There’s an undercover DEA agent posing as a drug trafficker arranging a Fentanyl smuggling operation between Canada and the US (Armie Hammer), a recovering addict architect determined to track down those responsible for her son’s involvement in narcotics (Evangeline Lilly), and a university professor (Gary Oldman) whose research laboratory uncovers dangerous revelations about a new drug that they’ve been paid to research by a very influential drug company and their executives (Luke Evans).
The main purpose of Crisis appears to be highlighting two entirely juxtaposed real-life issues with opioids – the illegal smuggling and import of street drugs and the completely legal yet questionable drugs introduced by drug companies with the full support of the government. For most, neither of these stories should be particularly surprising as they’re fairly common knowledge and have been featured in countless films and documentaries over the years, although I think this may be the first time the two stories have been shown together in a film. And for Crisis this really works – showing the two contrasting issues makes for a more interesting and unique story rather than concentrating solely on one that we’ve seen many times before, especially as it’s split into three separate narratives.
However, the problem with Crisis is that not all of the narratives are as engaging as intended. Evangeline Lilly puts in a wonderful and emotional performance as architect and mother Claire, but her narrative becomes a little unrealistic as she becomes bent on revenge at those responsible for involving her son in the drugs underworld. And unfortunately Armie Hammer’s narrative as undercover federal agent Jake is nothing original, with a smuggling operation and drugs bust that we’ve seen in many other films, some of which I’m afraid have done it a lot better. The most interesting narrative though is that of Gary Oldman as Dr Tyrone Brower, whose struggle over whether to tell the truth about a new dangerous drug or take the money from his drug company employers is a surprisingly thrilling morality tale. It’s helped by a superb turn from Oldman himself and a wonderful supporting role from Greg Kinnear (who I’ve adored since 1997’s As Good As It Gets), and the verbal sparring scenes between Brower and Kinnear’s university Dean are probably the best in the film. It’s a shame however that Luke Evans isn’t given as much to do with his part in this narrative, even with his questionable American accent. The biggest problem I had with all of the narratives is that unlike similar films that intertwine related narratives that eventually intersect dramatically (think 2006’s Best Picture Oscar winner Crash), the narratives here don’t all come together in the way I was expecting, which was rather disappointing.
Cinematography-wise, director and writer Jarecki does a good job as the film looks and feels good, and really highlights the US and Canadian settings. The soundtrack only adds to the overall tense and suspenseful feel of the film, although it does feature the typical pulsing, drum beat style that seems to be standard for a modern thriller. And the script, while possibly a little clichéd especially around the drugs bust and smuggling, is good and with his supporting acting role as Jake’s fellow DEA agent Stan, Nicholas Jarecki could be one to watch in future.
Overall, Crisis is a good thriller that tells the story of well-known drug issues in a different way and does well in highlighting real life concerns. For the most part, it succeeds in bringing an interesting set of narratives together for a fairly gripping albeit slightly long film, and despite my preconceptions about how its intersecting storylines should play out, it is an enjoyable watch, although for the most part thanks to the talents of Gary Oldman.
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