Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Nicholas Jarecki

Stars: Armie Hammer, Gary Oldman, Evengeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear, Guy Nadon, Luke EVans, Michelle Rodriguez, Martin Donovan, Lily-Rose Depp, Veronica Ferres, Indira Varma, Mia Kirshner, Nicholas Jarecki, Michael Aranov.

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The war on drugs has proved fertile territory for filmmakers. With its complex structure, three narrative arcs and its multi-layered story about the opioid crisis in America and the war on drugs, Crisis resembles Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar winning 2000 drama Traffic. The film has been written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki (the 2012 financial thriller Arbitrage). As with that timely drama, Crisis is loosely inspired by real events and taps into some contemporary concerns – the opioid crisis in America, the impact of drug addiction on the innocent families left behind, the corrupting power of money and giant pharmaceutical companies, and the difficulties faced by whistle blowers.

Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer, from Call Me By Your Name, etc) is a DEA agent working undercover with an Armenian gang involved in the illegal drug trade, distributing Fentanyl, a highly dangerous and addictive new designer drug, in the Detroit area. For him this is also a personal matter as his younger sister Emmie (Lily-Rose Depp) is a drug addict, and he is trying to rid the city of the scourge of opioids.  Kelly is trying to broker a meeting between the Armenians and a Canadian mob of drug dealers under the control of the enigmatic Mother (Guy Nadon), who use teens to smuggle the Fentanyl across the border into the US. He is hoping to engineer a meeting between the two organisations in order to make a major bust and put them both out of business.

Meanwhile elsewhere in Detroit, architect and single mother Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly, better known for playing the Wasp in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), a recovering drug addict herself, learns that her teenage son David has just died of a drug overdose. Discovering that he was murdered, she sets out to seek revenge on those responsible. With her one-woman war on drug dealers Clare comes across as a “dirty Harriet” type. Her quest leads her into increasingly dangerous territory, and she crosses paths with Kelly’s investigation.

The third narrative strain plays out like a morality tale. Also in Detroit, a major pharmaceutical company is preparing to launch a new painkilling drug that is supposedly not as addictive as Oxycodone and the like. But Professor Tyrone Brower (Oscar winner Gary Oldman, from the Dark Knight series) is running tests as part of the testing process before the FDA will approve the drug for use. He discovers a potentially lethal side effect. But when he tries to speak up and bring this to the attention of the FDA and then the media he is thwarted by threats to both his reputation and livelihood, and threats to cut off any future funding for his laboratory. He is also pressured to drop the matter and remain quiet by Talbot (an unctuous Greg Kinnear), the university dean who places funding ahead of ethics.

With its sprawling reach Crisis covers a lot of territory, and veers between morality tale, formulaic police procedural and corporate greed, and tries to put a more human face on the opioid crisis. During the final credits, a series of stark figures about the toll of the drug crisis scrolls across the screen. While Jarecki tries to balance the sprawling narrative and its three separate strands, he fumbles with a third act that comes across as cliched with stereotyped characters and involves a violent shootout. Each of the three stories is potentially strong in its own way, but when tied together as here the overall result is a little less then compelling. Two of the narrative strands are neatly integrated, while the strand involving Oldman’s character and his moral dilemma remains separate from the others.

Jarecki elicits committed performances from his cast. Hammer brings his usual stoic quality and a gritty edge to his performance as the strong jawed undercover cop, but his character is a familiar archetype and there is little development or depth. Oldman is also good as the scientist caught up in an ethical dilemma, but his accent seems to slip at times. Lilly brings an emotional and fragile quality to her performance. The supporting cast includes Luke Evans, Martin Donovan and Michelle Rodriguez who leave their mark on their smaller roles.


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