Crisis Synopsis: Three stories about the world of opioids collide: a drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation between Canada and the U.S., an architect recovering from an OxyContin addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s involvement with narcotics, and a university professor battles unexpected revelations about his research employer, a drug company with deep government influence bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market.
Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki broke it big with his 2012 narrative debut Arbitrage. Despite relatively muted expectations, Jarecki’s effort became a critical darling while achieving rare success on a financial level (the film had a successful theatrical/VOD simultaneous release long before that was common). Nearly nine years later, Jarecki is finally returning to the screen with his opioid ensemble piece Crisis.
In the vein of ambitious social dramas like Disconnected and Crash, Jarecki orchestrates three distinct arcs to ruminate on the cynical beasts behind the evolving drug epidemic. This Hollywood-ized depiction boasts a few limitations, but Jarecki exhibits prowess operating in the confines of your standard-issue dramatic thriller.
As a craftsman, Jarecki continues to operate with self-assured poise behind the camera. He presses all the right buttons to elicit tense discomfort, skillfully blending Raphael Reed’s pulsating score with Nicolas Bolduc’s thoughtful visual pallet (the usage of neon lighting in dimly-lit areas sets a fittingly grimy aesthetic). Jarecki also displays a tactful touch when it comes to heavier dramatic frames. His reserved presentation allows the actor’s emotive portrayals to take center stage without utilizing tacky gimmicks. In a climate where grounded adult thrillers rarely receive the time of day, it’s nice to see the writer/director repurposing familiar genre devices within his contemporary subject matter.
Working as a tightly-wound ensemble piece, Crisis benefits greatly from its veteran cast. Gary Oldman is an actor’s actor for a reason, with the star imbuing his conflicted professor role with gravitas at every turn. Evangeline Lilly delivers a career-best performance as a mom recovering from a heartbreaking opioid crime. In a role that easily could’ve traversed down mawkishly theatric territory, Lilly’s authentic presence helps ground the role amidst a few puzzling developments (well get to that). A sturdy supporting cast including Greg Kinnear, Michelle Rodriguez, and Kid Cudi help prop up their fairly procedural roles.
Jarecki’s multi-narrative structure does an adequate job highlighting the different spheres affected by opioids (from the commercial sphere to the seedy crime transactions, both magnified by Lilly’s arc amidst the aftermath of tragedy). Where Crisis limits itself stems from the basic levels of depth imbued into each arch. The three narratives flow seamlessly into one, but they can occasionally feel like they are competing for Jarecki’s interest as he attempts to create a finite thesis. It’s not like each arc is particularly revelatory (you could probably reference films that follow similar road maps), so a bit more insular nuance would’ve helped rather than Hollywood theatrics. The overworked plot dynamics become apparent during the noisy third act, which reaches an implausible and far too clean destination considering the subject matter.
Crisis doesn’t break new ground with its timely subject matter, but credit to Jarecki for still spinning an engaging yarn for audiences to invest in. I hope we see Jarecki on the screen sooner than last time, as he’s a promising voice with a confident hold on potentially-combustible issues.
Crisis hits theaters on February 26th with a VOD release scheduled for March 5th.
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