ST. LOUIS — According to Nicholas Jarecki's new film, "Crisis," more Americans were killed by an opioid overdose in the past two years than died in the Vietnam War. A startling figure that lays the groundwork for his thriller. Heroine isn't the cruelest drug on the market anymore; that's opioids-a drug that can be disguised as a simple pill in a bottle, but one that could end it all in one bad decision. In three separate stories merged together, we see the tactical way in which civilians, cops, and crooks are using the newfound killer drug. But is it worth your time? Follow along and I will tell you.
Jarecki's film presents the fictional drug, Klaralon, which according to its global drug company maker, will not lead to addiction (but we all know it will). Gary Oldman's professor at a well-known Detroit college, whose lab is testing out the new drug, knows something is wrong. Guess what the reaction is when he brings it up to the college board? An architect and former drug addict (Evangeline Lilly) suffers an indescribable loss and goes on for revenge against the notorious gangster named Mother (Guy Nadon), who controls the local drug trade. And then there's Armie Hammer's federal agent trying to bring Mother and his cronies down.
"Crisis" hits hardest when it's dealing with Lilly and Oldman's stories. Hammer may look like Achillies, but he has the acting range of Taylor Lautner. There's just something that doesn't convince, which short-circuits his story line's power and relevance. He's a guy going through the motions endlessly, only shining when paired with a very good actor.
While parts of the film are sophomoric, sometimes hitting the nail a little too much on the head, I was compelled to the end. The running time clocks in at nearly two hours, but it feels shorter than some 90 minute movies-if that makes sense. Along with his editor Duff Smith and director of photography Nicolas Balduc, Jarecki doesn't waste time in pushing his three stories to the finish line, even if the impact isn't felt as hard due to the spread-out nature of the plot. Focusing on one or two of the tales could have led to a film that I wouldn't ask you to pay $20 dollars to rent like some new PVOD releases-but it's worth six dollars on Amazon Prime Video.
Oldman and Lilly make it a worthy endeavor. They take Jarecki's script and lift it up just high enough to transmit a message and entertain. Without them, it would be a TV movie of the week. Oldman could play this part in his sleep, but he gives more as a professor ruminating over being the whistleblower, a move that would blow down everything in his career up until that point. He shares a scene with Greg Kinnear, a University chairman who goes way back with him, late in the film that has more nuance than expected.
It's as if Jarecki watched all of these previous "don't do drugs" movies, and did his best to riff on them here. He partially succeeds by actually wrapping up stories and not letting the audience try to figure them out. This is especially true with Lilly's avenging mom. She shines the most here as a woman who knows the effect of powerful drugs all too well to let a bad man get away, even a man oddly named "Mother." Again, focusing on her tale could have led to a more memorable film, instead of one that just gets the job done.
Bottom Line: "Crisis" holds your attention to the very end, creating a decent thriller with just enough substance. But its biggest message about the drug war comes in the final seconds of the film, when it informs you that over 100,000 people die from an opioid overdose each year, a figure that grows at over 20% annually. "Traffic" it is not, but serviceable and worth a rental it surely is.