According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over the past 20 years, 840,000 people lost their lives from a drug overdose. Just two years ago, 70% of those deaths were attributed to opioids and that number is rising.
Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki (“Arbitrage”) addresses the epidemic with the investigative thriller “Crisis” featuring three intersecting stories of people whose lives have been affected by at least one form of the drug. The compelling thriller features a first-rate cast led by Gary Oldman as a university professor battling Big Pharma, Armie Hammer as a DEA agent fighting to keep drugs off the street, and Evangeline Lilly as a recovering addict seeking revenge.
Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, Lily-Rose Depp, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Duke Nicholson, Veronica Ferres
Directed by Nicholas Jarecki
The story begins on the snowy U.S. Canada Border, where a teenager (Charles Champagne) working as a drug mule is apprehended with a gym bag full of fentanyl. Back in Detroit, undercover DEA agent Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer) performs damage control as a pair of Armenian gangsters with itchy trigger fingers are worried that their courier is going to talk to the authorities, “That would be unpleasant for everyone,” while across town recovering addict Claire (Evangeline Lilly) attends a support group recounting the time she purposely slammed her wrist in a car door to get a script for more pain meds. Naked stories from the frontlines of an epidemic out of control.
Jarecki, who also plays Hammer’s partner, Agent Foster, uses the film’s first half-hour to introduce the main characters while building momentum. As the two storylines are laid out for the audience at a rather swift pace, surprisingly there’s little confusion and no clue as to how these lives will intersect.
The third narrative features Gary Oldman (doing his best Pacino impersonation) as college professor Tyrone Brower who is at the end of a drug trial for a new medication called Klaralon which is touted as a painkiller breakthrough for its non-addictive nature. Once he gives the OK, Big Pharma is ready to ready to write out a nearly 800,000 check to the university to help fund Dr. Brower’s department. That would please Dean Talbot (Greg Kinnear) there’s just a small snag. The mice being used in the study are not only addicted to the medication they are overdosing on it.
The whole money-versus-ethics dilemma comes into play as Oldman’s character risks his career if he doesn’t approve the study commissioned by the pharmaceutical company’s Dr. Bill Simons played by Luke Evans.
The supporting cast features a solid list of actors that include Michelle Rodriquez as DEA Supervisor Garrett who has to question Kelly’s methods, “Are we selling drugs?” after his operation involves recruiting homeless people to pose as patients who are given prescriptions for oxy by corrupt doctors and then buying the pills back from them to use as leverage with the Armenian and Canadian gangsters. No busts have been made because oxy Is out and fentanyl is in, which according to Kelly is “100 times more potent than heroin.”
Lily-Rose Depp has a small role as Kelly’s sister, a heroin addict, which adds fervor to the DEA agent’s war against opioids which have personally affected his family. The same can be said for Lilly’s former addict character Claire whose son gets entangled in the epidemic. There’s also a cameo by Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi as an FDA official brought into the fold as Professor Brower’s conscience gets the best of him.
The film’s message is timely. Just days ago, the news broke of rapper DMX in critical condition after suffering a heart attack from an alleged drug overdose. In 2016 the artist, real name Earl Simmons, was saved by paramedics after he was found unresponsive in a Westchester, NY parking lot. He was given the anti-opioid Narcan, commonly used to reverse the effects of a heroin overdose, which saved his life.
“Crisis” is an ambitious film that could easily implode given the number of narratives and characters whose paths cross, but it doesn’t, thanks to Jarecki who never lets the story’s complexity disorient the viewer. It’s an exceptional thriller with an A-list cast that shines a light on an ongoing epidemic that continues to grow at an alarming rate.