Gary Oldman Delivers Another Compelling Performance in Convoluted but Urgent Drug Thriller ‘Crisis’

The opioid crisis, a dire situation that has touched many Americans, is front and center in writer-producer-director Nicholas Jarecki’s second feature, the timely thriller “Crisis.” Comprised of three different narratives set in Detroit and Montreal, the film examines the devastating impact opioids have on people of all walks of life.

The first storyline centers on Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer), a DEA agent who is in the midst of a dangerous undercover operation. He’s posing as an Oxycotin dealer, but his endgame is to bring down a group of Canadian and Armenian drug lords dealing in the super dangerous and deadly drug fentanyl. Hammer delivers an intense performance as Jake risks his own life and that of his associates for an operation that is not guaranteed to end in success. There are so many moving parts and opportunities for things to go wrong, but this fight is a personal one for him, as his younger sister, Emmie (Lily-Rose Depp), is in the throes of addiction, and has already experienced hearing damage from opioid abuse.

For Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly), the fight is even more personal. Through her, the viewer gets what is probably the most realistic portrait of an addict. After becoming addicted to painkillers following an accident, she details to a support group how she purposely re-injured her arm just to score some more pills. An architect and single mom, she struggles to hold it together for her teen son, a star hockey player with a bright future. Shockingly, it is her son who turns up dead in a gutter from an overdose. None of this adds up for Claire, and she ends up going into the teen’s phone and finding clues that lead her all the way to Montreal seeking answers, and there her path crosses with that of Jake’s.

The third storyline is very different from the other two, as it’s a stand-alone narrative, and the man at the center, a chemistry professor, Tyronne Brower (Gary Oldman), hasn’t been personally impacted by addiction, at least not opioid addiction. His story focuses more on big pharma and the overreaching power these big corporations have. Tyronne’s currently in charge of a lab that is testing what is supposed to be a non-addictive painkiller on mice, but the results that come back prove that the opposite is true of the drug. Unfortunately, it’s not enough for him and his team to run the tests again, because a lot is riding on his delivering the desired results to these swarmy execs (Luke Evans, Veronica Ferres), and they even attempt to bribe him with more funding on the condition of his signing papers undermining the credibility of his research. After he refuses to play ball, his boss and close friend, Geoff (Greg Kinnear), comes down hard on him, and an old sexual harassment allegation (he asked out a student years ago when he was abusing alcohol) is used against him.

As Oldman is such a consummate actor, his storyline about a man of integrity caught in a big machine cannot help but be compelling. However, one has to get past some clichéd dialogue and tropes to get into it. It’s also amusing to see the mental gymnastics the pharma execs go through to convince themselves that their product is safe, at one point even stating that the drug isn’t addictive –– As long as the patient doesn’t take it for too long.

Other compelling moments involve Claire’s struggles with addiction, as Lilly delivers a strong and emotional performance. At one point, she even goes for a bottle of pills knowing that the opioid trade led to her son’s death; that’s how strong a grip the drug has on her. Packed full of action, one would think Jake’s storyline would be the most gripping, but it is rather convoluted and bogged down by extraneous characters and details.

Crisis” releases Feb. 26 in select cities and March 5 on VOD.