Crisis – Review

Written & Directed by Nicholas Jarecki

Canada, Belgium/ 2021/ 118 mins

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The shrapnel of drug abuse and the institutional capitalism surrounding pharmaceuticals has a far-reaching and profoundly dangerous reach. Loosely teasing the strings of genuine incidents with a fictional “non-addictive” painkiller, Nicholas Jarecki‘s Crisis ticks the boxes of respectable casting in Gary Oldman and Evangeline Lily and comes with an intricate promise of spliced stories that share a bond over the individual battles with narcotics, addiction and recovery.

And while there are ripples of consequences and intricate connections between the plot-threads, enough isn’t capitalised on for the narratives to prop one another up. Jarecki’s writing becomes singular and detached, almost episodic as we switch between our tertiary protagonists Dr Tyrone Bowler (Oldman), a professor grappling with his studies surrounding the fictional drug, Jake (Armie Hammer) an action-ready enforcer looking to stem the flow of smuggled opioids and Claire (Lilly), a mother mourning the loss of her son to an overdose.

Tacking the epidemic from various angles, Nicolas Bolduc‘s photographic process furthers the individual nature of the stories but also detaches audiences. Different sequences exhibit differing pacing, as expected, but the move from high-octane action to slow, intimate and intense framing of a grieving mother is at times jarring. Armie Hammer’s moments of action, and tense situations with “Mother”, the leader of a cartel-ring are particular moments where Bolduc frames the film in a gripping manner, retaining the absence of colour to conjure a numb presence of time, where the impact of the opioids stills life for the characters. But the cinematography is bland, shadowy and only broken by the clinical nature of laboratories or crisp white houses.  

Unlikely to surprise is the acute sense of detail and control Gary Oldman brings to the film’s third narrative, and is the only character not to directly interact with our other leads.  This is for the benefit of the film, likely diluting Hammer’s place within the story had they met. As with the plot of Claire, Oldman’s character arc as a tenured professor and researcher, who balances the duties of care and morality with the struggles of scientific funding, makes for a gripping dramatic legal thriller oddly inserted into an action film.

Equally, Lily’s performance as a recovering addict and grieving mother is a sentimental but powerful presence; a woman powerless to have genuine influence in the drug world but who is determined to do something. The nature and subject of the film continue to be a relevant and persistent issue. The mythos of the drug world is that of street corners and hustlers, but is more insidiously inclined towards over-the-counter prescribed opioids. Jarecki has a personal connection with loss from drugs, and insightfully never points the finger at the addicts and those fallen by the wayside. The antagonists, if there such, are the bottomless stomachs of ravenous corporations and smugglers.

And perhaps this is the most inexcusable sin Jarecki commits – Crisis could be tremendous. With this superb talent and evident aptitude with filmmaking, there’s a pang of not getting your fix. Just as the action begins to erupt or the drama peaks, the film reaches a rather simmering conclusion which fails to reach the boil.

Delivering on exceptionally measured performances, Crisis suffers from one of its own identity. With a compact structure, the film sneaks in under two hours, but this comes with the sacrifice that the trio of narratives come with a coalescence of genres that fails to balance correctly. An action-thriller can inhabit the shared space of a family drama, but being cut with heavy legal dialogue and scientific moral choices taints each aspect. Individually the three components flourish as singular movies, helmed with strong performers and competent cinematography, but dim somewhat with the overarching structure and writing.

Review published for The Wee Review

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