Crisis Review: A Formulaic Drug Movie With Little Emotional Stakes

Crisis centers the opioid epidemic by turning its attention to multiple characters and three distinct narratives that work as standalone stories, but are intertwined through a focus on fentanyl, oxycodone, and heroin. Suffice it to say there is a lot going on in the film, which is written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, and yet none of it comes together cohesively to work. While Crisis has shining moments that are effective, the film doesn’t engage with the characters or invest in any emotional stakes to be worthwhile. 

The film follows three characters, all of whom are connected to opioids directly or otherwise. Claire (Evangeline Lilly) is a former addict whose son dies from an overdose, though she suspects foul play; Dr. Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman) is a college professor whose research team is paid to test out a new drug by a big pharmaceutical company, which leads him to a crisis of conscience when he realizes the drug’s devastating effects; finally, there’s Jake (Armie Hammer), an undercover DEA agent investigating drug lords at the Canadian border and who is intent on bringing them down. Jake also has a sister who is addicted to oxycodone, so it’s somewhat of a personal vendetta for him as well. 

Crisis tries its hardest to be like Traffic, but fails in creating a satisfyingly thorough world with enough high stakes or tension. Storywise, the film is incredibly flat and static. There are several moving pieces, but viewers won’t find themselves enthralled by any of them. Rather than focusing on the thriller aspects of the film, Crisis should have been an examination of the people at the forefront of the opioid epidemic. Instead, Jarecki splits the film’s focus in an attempt to capture the abhorrent actions of those with power without formally addressing the systems in place or the people who are disproportionately affected by it.

Who wants to follow the DEA or a pharmaceutical company’s corruption when the decision-making feels so distant from the people who buy and sell it? The lack of such emotional investment will leave the audience detached from the storyline, which is convoluted and doesn’t come together cohesively or effectively in the film’s final act. Oldman and Hammer’s subplots take up a lot of space, with the latter’s story involving a drug-addicted sister who is honestly mistreated by him. Jake wants to help her, but he’s too caught up with his job to fully care. Oldman’s Tyrone has the second-most intriguing plot because of its proximity to a big pharma company, the FDA, and the unethical actions of introducing a drug that is harmful to people.

However, the emotional core of the film lies with Lilly’s Claire. She is desperate for answers regarding her son and takes matters into her own hands when she realizes the cops don’t care to figure out what really happened. Claire gets in way over her head, of course, but she is also the most sympathetic character and someone whose arc viewers can be fully engaged with. It’s here where the story has the highest stakes and leans into captivating territory, even though the plot becomes more concerned with her surface-level revenge. It’s detrimental to the film’s flow whenever the focus is shifted away from Lilly and Oldman, both of whom provide the most grounded and moving performances of the ensemble.

To be sure, Crisis is a call to action, highlighting the opioid epidemic while showcasing the many moving parts. However, the film wants to include everything, rendering its message muddled. The story ultimately comes off like a well-researched article with statistics that can easily be found doing a Google search. There is no pathos to be found, no fluidity to tie everything together despite Jarecki’s well-meaning attempts. Crisis ends up being a superficial story, unwilling to dive deeper into what it’s trying to convey and it keeps all of its characters and their storylines at arm’s length. There could have been so much more to the story, so many intricacies worth exploring, but there isn’t enough tension, drama, or stakes to make for an enthralling watch. 

Crisis is now playing in theaters and will be available on demand and digital March 5, 2021. The film is 118 minutes long and is rated R for drug content, violence, and language throughout.

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