Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki never clearly dates Crisis, his film about the ongoing opioid epidemic. Fleeting glimpses of cell phones suggest that Crisis takes place sometime in the teens, and that 10-year-old window is about as precise as the movie ever gets. An occasional reference to a President that at least some of the characters seem to respect hints at an Obama-era storyline. But when the actual actions of this faceless President involve fast-tracking some criminal investigations for political purposes and short-circuiting others because they target influential friends, Crisis becomes a timeless, terrifying work.
CRISIS ★★★★(4/5 stars) Directed by: Nicholas Jarecki Written by: Nicholas Jarecki Starring: Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly Running time: 118 min
Crisis unfolds over three axes. Gary Oldman is an aging professor overseeing a lab study that confirms the safety of a new non-addictive wonder drug. Arnie Hammer is an undercover cop trying to hunt down an international drug cartel. Evangeline Lily has the most interesting role of the three, although it’s a slow burn. A former addict herself, on paper her character seems superfluous, a normal person meant to emphasize the human cost. Yet over time, she becomes embroiled in a typical revenge thriller plot completely unsuited to her personality, with the vigilante underpinnings seeming all too relevant as we watch Gary Oldman and Arnie Hammer stumble in their attempts to achieve justice by working through the system.
Crisis is an unapologetically issues-related film. Jarecki grounds it so realistically that the presentation is actually kind of to the movie’s detriment. We open up with a foreboding view of the great white north, and the deep systemic issues are obvious even as we look at the attempted solutions. He sets this well in an early scene where Arnie Hammer explains how a big part of the sting operation literally involves bribing homeless people to commit crimes. But without a sick, sad society like that, there probably wouldn’t even be an opioid crisis to solve.
I never felt like any of the characters had a real chance to succeed even in their individual goals, let alone the greater context of the crisis. And that’s where the brilliance of Crisis really lies. Even the most heroic actions don’t really feel heroic because, as the closing subtitles remind us, the opioid crisis didn’t go away just because it stopped being such a big news story. Maybe it never will. And really, that should scare you a hell of a lot more than what happens to any individual fictional character.
William Schwartz is a reporter and film critic based in Seoul, South Korea. He writes primarily for HanCinema, the world's largest and most popular English language database for South Korean television dramas and films.