Wednesday, February 24, 2021

A multi-pronged look at the opioid crisis

     Director Nicholas Jarecki must have realized that opioid addiction is a multi-level problem that invades many corners of society. Perhaps that's why Jarecki's Crisis revolves around three stories, each moored in the culture that created one of the US's most severe drug problems.
     Crisis encompasses DEA undercover work, dubious university connections to drug companies, and a mom's search for the cause of her teenage son's death.
     Taking this kind of multi-pronged approach isn't without risks and Jarecki (Arbitrage) can't overcome them all, notably the way his movie loses momentum as it shifts from one story to another.
    The relationship between universities and those who fund research (in this case a major drug company) might not be the most dynamic of the movie's various plot threads but it's the most intriguing and, by itself, could have made for a provocative movie.
    It's equally true that trying to mount several stories, even if they're interrelated,  reduces the movie to a complex but nonetheless unsatisfying procedural.
     Armie Hammer portrays Jake Kelly, a DEA agent who's trying to infiltrate and expose a Canadian/Armenian Fentanyl-smuggling ring. A recovered addict, Clare (Evangeline Lilly) tries to learn how her squeaky-clean son could have died from an overdose, and Gary Oldman portrays Doctor Tyrone Brower, a scientist whose work has been funded by Big Pharma. 
    Now, one of his major donors wants Brower to corroborate its claim that the company has discovered a pain-killing drug that doesn't have the addictive powers of Oxycontin. This part of the movie revolves around Brower's crisis of conscience. He knows the drug isn't as advertised and agonizes about whether to  become a whistleblower.
    Hammer's portion of the movie seems most familiar, a thriller set in the morally ambiguous world of cops and drugs. Lilly's quest feels underdeveloped as she becomes something a cliche, the untrained civilian who decides to play sleuth.
    Goldman does his best to bring Dr. Brower's torment to life, but Crisis doesn't fuel much by way of outrage about the willingness of universities to corrupt themselves for money.
    I  wouldn't call Crisis a bad movie, but it does feel like a scattered and only intermittently powerful attempt to make a comprehensive statement about the culture that spawned an opioid epidemic. 


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