CRISIS: An Interconnected Opioid Thriller

Writer/Director Nicholas Jarecki injects facts and heart

What images immediately come to your mind when you think about the drug war?

For me it’s traditionally been cartels, the southern border, needles, and flophouses. But the landscape of substance abuse in America has changed dramatically since the days of Soderbergh’s Traffic, from which writer/director Nicholas Jarecki takes more than a little inspiration for his sweeping topical thriller Crisis.

The images Jarecki (and reality) foist on us that most represent today’s drug war are your local CVS and Walgreens, not to mention your doctor’s office. (Okay, you’re still going to see some flophouses, but the border is Canadian this time).

Over the last couple of years I’ve personally been hearing and learning more about the depth, breadth, and systemic rot that is the opioid crisis in America, and I feel I (not to mention the nation) have only come to understand the tip of the iceberg in terms of the complexity and tragedy of this epidemic. With my own wife recently coming on staff at a non-profit dedicated to ending substance use disorder through federal policy changes, I’m primed and ready to learn as much as I can about this particular crisis we are facing. This is how I came to check out Jarecki’s new film, and I largely like what I saw.

Initially, Crisis feels like Opioids: The Movie. We’re introduced to the issue through the sprawling narrative Jarecki has crafted which attempts to highlight many of the essential topics around this issue: individual addicts, international smuggling, whistleblowing, big pharma and the billions they make by addicting patients and encouraging medical professionals to look the other way. Crisis flirts with biting off more than it can chew, but eventually finds rhythm as a topical and character-based thriller. Armie Hammer plays Jake Kelly, a DEA agent on the verge of a major fentanyl bust who is motivated in part by the very personal fact that his young sister is strung out on oxy herself. Evangeline Lilly is Claire Reimann, an oxy addict in recovery heading down the path of obsession and revenge as she uncovers the truth behind her teenage son’s shocking death by overdose. Gary Oldman brings the gravitas as Dr. Tyrone Brower, a university scientist who makes a shocking discovery about a new fictional drug that is supposed to be non-addictive but which in reality will be oxy all over again. Between these three main characters and their stories, Crisis manges to touch on a broad array of topics relevant to the opioid epidemic from the deeply personal to the systemic. This actually threatens to derail the movie initially as it feels much more topically motivated than “gripping story” motivated.

But as the film plays out and the situations our characters find themselves in are fleshed out and humanized, Crisis settles into the confident pace of a thriller and manages to strike a balance between effective thriller and righteously furious message movie. At the halfway point or so, I found myself wondering where it was all going to lead, how it was all going to play out, and what kind of message the film was trying to communicate to me… all good signs for a thriller that is working. Among a murderers row of name talent and recognizable faces, Crisis occasionally delivers riveting performances and sometimes offers flat delivery in some of the less consequential roles. But it’s undeniable that Jarecki assembled a pretty remarkable ensemble cast for this film, even if Hammer’s off screen behavior has most likely derailed his career and almost certainly impacted the reach that Jarecki likely hoped this film would have.

America IS indeed gripped by a crisis we’re only just beginning to reckon with. Opioids were created in labs that have grossly profited and billionaires who addicted a nation are being slapped on the wrists by fines. Our own doctors prescribed these drugs to us and promised they were safe. Yet our culture remains fixated on judging and stigmatizing the victims of opioid addiction rather than the perpetrators. It’s a tragedy that’s ongoing, and there are no easy solutions. Jarecki wades into these murky waters with Crisis and emerges with a message movie that sticks to its guns without becoming overly preachy, and a thriller that keeps us guessing. It’s a commendable if uneven effort, and you could do a lot worse than to check this out to gauge the pulse of this epidemic in an exciting package.

And I’m Out.

Crisis is now available on Digital and On Demand from Quiver Distribution.

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