With COVID-19 still running riot around the world, it’s worth remembering that if we eventually emerge from this specific onslaught in one piece, we’ll still have the same problems to navigate; the on-going opioid epidemic for starters. Filmed before the lockdown, there’s a moment in this Traffic-style multi-strand story where a character refers to ‘the greatest public health crisis since tobacco’, and pandemic or no pandemic, that crisis remains. Of course, what may unite us all is the desire to build back better; in terms of figuring out how to tackle this particular problem, Nicholas Jarecki’s film feels like an ideal place to start.
Pills require some sugar-coating; Crisis may be tough to swallow at times, with some hard-hitting storylines, so an agreeable all-star cast help sweeten the deal. Gary Oldman plays Dr Tyrone Brower, a Big Pharma darling who is chasing ‘the holy grail of non-addictive painkillers’. When it turns out that the painkillers under development may prove more rather than less addictive, Brower is keen to pull the plug, but financial interests intercede. This is a compelling storyline in itself, with some insight into rushing product past the FDA and how whistle-blowers operate which feels very pertinent to 2021. There’s also a similarly timely subplot that shows how the MeToo movement could be manipulated and exploited for political gain; Brower faces obloquy when a decade-old sexual harassment claim is used to put pressure on him to follow corporate directives.
Other strands deal more directly with how opioids affect the general public; Evangeline Lily stars as Claire Reimann, whose son dies of an overdose that she suspects may be murder; her one-woman investigation leads up the supply chain to cross-paths with copper Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer). Fuelled by personal motivations, Kelly is attempting to broach a deal between Armenian and Canadian dealers with a view to busting the lot of them; veteran actor Guy Nadon has a memorable turn as Mother, the big boss at the end of this particular level. Each story is engaging in itself, but a slathering of guest stars, including Kid Cudi, Luke Evans, Michelle Rodriguez, Greg Kinnear and Martin Donovan make sure that the seriousness of the message doesn’t drag the action down.
As with Jarecki’s previous thriller Arbitrage, Crisis in no po-faced lecture, but works as an accessible, entertaining Saturday night entertainment, with shoot-outs and last minute rescues. But Jarecki’s script manages to stay on the credible side, and should raise awareness and provoke debate about how best to tackle the problem portrayed, whether in terms of administration, policing or support. The size and complexity of the problem justifies Jarecki’s approach; it’ll take some joined-up thinking to resolve the thorny issues described here. And Crisis is also worth lauding for being relevant, something many of 2021’s awards season films about 60’s counter-culture heroes or LGBT Victorian geologists didn’t do. Pulling no punches, Crisis shines a harsh light on a genuine problem happening right now, and offers an urgent wake-up call to the sleeping masses that something simply has to be done about the opioid problem.
Crisis is out now in the US and Canada on itunes and other streaming services. I’ll post UK links closer to the UK release.