Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki
Premise: Based on true events. A pharmaceutical company prepares a new pain killer for the market but a university laboratory uncovers hidden dangers. Meanwhile, narcotics agents attempt to bust a Fentanyl smuggling ring and a woman investigates her son’s death.
What Works: Crisis is a throwback to the social issue dramas that were in vogue after 2005’s Crash. The movie alternates between three different storylines involving opioids and two of the subplots are intertwined. A university lab director tries to raise awareness of the deadly side effects of a new pain mediation readying for FDA approval but finds himself stonewalled and undercut by a powerful pharmaceutical company. That narrative is crosscut with a federal narcotics agent masterminding a plot to ensnare Canadian Fentanyl smugglers and their American buyers but the operation is put at risk when his cover is nearly blown. In a related story, a woman whose teenage son died suspiciously traces her boy’s social connections to the Canadian drug ring. These stories are compelling in their own right and each of them is anchored by impressive performances. The most dramatic role is played by Evangeline Lilly. She’s a recovering addict who loses her son and her grief is the most emotionally involving aspect of Crisis. Armie Hammer impresses as the federal agent. While he’s playing a tough guy, Hammer has moments of vulnerability and his character is pushed to the edge of lawful behavior. Also impressive is Gary Oldman as a compromised lab director. This is the most complex of the subplots and Oldman brings a lot of nuance to the movie as his character weighs his options.
What Doesn’t: As is sometimes the case with movies involving intertwining narratives, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Crisis feels like two movies flung together. The laboratory drama is so disconnected from the other two subplots that it comes across out of place while the law enforcement story and the grieving mother subplot are linked by some farfetched coincidences. Each story could be a compelling movie on its own but shrunken to fit within this multi-narrative film these stories don’t have the space to breathe and develop. As a social issue drama, Crisis possesses little that that is revelatory. The goal of a film like this is to use drama to explore the human dimensions of a social issue—in this case the opioid epidemic—but the film simplifies the issue and gives the stories Hollywood endings that are out of step with the tone of the film.
Bottom Line: Crisis is admirable in its intentions and the movie’s individual parts are done well enough but on the whole the movie is underwhelming. The picture doesn’t actually reveal much about the opioid crisis and the compromised endings undercut the urgency of the issue.
Episode: #846 (April 4, 2021)