I have been waiting nine long years (nearly a decade!) to see the second feature film from producer, writer and director Nicholas Jarecki. His first film “Arbitrage”, was one of 2012’s top ten films of the year. It’s a superb and intelligent thriller that left you thinking about it days after. Led by a career best performance by Richard Gere, who was completely Oscar snubbed.
I couldn’t be happier that Jarecki (who writes, produces, directs and co-stars as Armie Hammer’s DEA partner) is finally back with his “inspired by true events” opioid drug thriller “Crisis”. Jarecki weaves his story through three alternating stories all tied to the same subject of the tragic addictive nature of the opioid drug and three individuals who aim to combat it in their own ways. “Crisis” will undoubtedly be compared to two multiple Oscar winning films. The Steven Soderbergh 2000 “Traffic” and Paul Haggis’ 2005 Best Picture champ “Crash”. Soderbergh’s “Traffic” especially seems to be a inspiration to Jarecki’s film in exploring how deep opioids have become embedded in modern culture, making it’s way from the corporate level to the criminal.
In it’s multiple storylines, we first meet Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer), an undercover DEA operative who uses his own unscrupulous methods to infiltrate a couple of gangster drug operations, with the help of his partner (Nicholas Jarecki). Jake also has a personal stake in this because his sister (played by Johnny Deep’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp) is an opioid addict who is shuffled in and out of trouble with local drug dealers. Then there is Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly), a recovering addict in a 12-step program, with a loving son who suddenly goes missing and turns up dead. Getting no satisfactory answers, she takes on the task of going after the dealers herself.
Finally, there is Dr. Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman), a seemingly successful college professor who is also doing research on a miracle painkiller drug called Clarion that is meant to not be addictive. In the meantime, Brower is being tempted with a very generous grant from the big pharma companies, as is the university that he teaches for, which is something the dean (Greg Kinnear) is keenly eyeing. All the while leaving Brower to battle his moral conscience and stop the drug from hitting the streets as he knows “this is the biggest public health crisis since tobacco!”.
“Crisis” is bolstered by a stellar cast that any filmmaker would kill to have. Everyone here is fantastic and I mean everyone, which includes Oscar winner Gary Oldman (who is also executive producer), Evangeline Lilly (“Ant-Man”), Armie Hammer (“The Lone Ranger”) and an impressive supporting cast that includes Greg Kinnear (“As Good As It Gets”), Michelle Rodriguez (“Fast & The Furious”), Lily Rose Depp (Johnny Depp’s daughter from “Yogahosers”) and Luke Evans (“Beauty & The Beast”).
Jarecki blends the films subplots with care, as he gives Dr. Brower and Claire a more human aspect to their challenges. The two deal with the anxiety of survival and profound loss, that gives the feature it’s emotional intensity. Jarecki then takes it to the next level as Armie Hammer’s DEA Agent turns “Crisis” into a thriller going from a high class drama with crackling dialogue to well staged shootouts.
Jarecki aims to give us his own multi story approach to the evolving national healthcare issue. The writer and director explores the pharmaceutical industry becoming a legitimate face to what has become a cutthroat, lucrative and destructive criminal enterprise. While what Jarecki has here works, i couldn’t stop thinking how it would have worked just as well, but more extensively in the form of a limited series.
Jarecki’s brilliant first film “Arbitrage”, took on the very topical financial crisis, who finally follows it up with another big and bold effort. This is a filmmaker with a lot on his mind that wants to address important issues. His investment in the subject and the commitment from his stellar cast is so satisfying. I hope it’s not another decade wait before we get to see Jarecki’s talents as a writer and director on not just another important issue like he tackles here, but I’d just like another film from him in general. Nicholas Jarecki is a brilliant writer, director and so are his films.
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)