Nicholas Jarecki’s new thriller Crisis follows three interlocking stories of people caught up in the opioid crisis on the American Canadian border. There is the story of Jake (Armie Hammer), an undercover cop infiltrating a Montreal drug smuggling ring; the story of Claire (Evangeline Lilly), a grieving mother trying to infiltrate the drug world herself in order to find her son’s killers; and the story of Tyrone (Gary Oldman), a lauded professor who discovers that a new, supposedly “non-addictive” opiate being brought to market will have disastrous results.
Crisis has all the sheen of a modern thriller, but strangely enough, ends up feeling like an entire season of a prestige drama series (such as Breaking Bad or Ozark) condensed into two hours. It moves quickly; so quickly in fact, that the audience rarely has any time to connect with the characters. Exceedingly rare are any moments of levity, and aside from an early usage of the Rolling Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, the soundtrack consists almost entirely of droning, monotonous electronica. This makes Crisis a frankly dour experience. A lot of scenes feature characters screaming at each other in profanity riddled tirades that eventually work to make the viewer numb. There is never any sense of cleverness or wit in the dialogue; each scene is extremely economical, designed to move the plot along as quickly as possible. That these plot lines are cliched and unremarkable does not help to make the film any more enjoyable.
The film is made up of three separate plot lines, each of which takes the form of a different popular thriller subgenre. Jake’s story is an attempt at an undercover cop style thriller, replete with many scenes of Armie Hammer’s Jake being questioned about his allegiance to his gang. This plot line is perhaps the most interesting one in the film, but it is harmed by the casting of Hammer. Despite the recent controversy surrounding him, Hammer is genuinely good in a certain type of role, that of the distant rich kid. It’s why he works in films such as The Social Network or Call Me By Your Name. But casting him as a square-jawed action hero is the wrong move; he simply does not have the range to make an audience care about him in this kind of role, and he seems disinterested in the material.
Claire’s story, a typical revenge plot, is helped by Evangeline Lilly’s committed performance. As a grieving mother and former OxyContin addict, she brings an emotional honesty to her scenes which is absent in the rest of the movie. The script is fairly one note and does not give Lilly many things to do other than cry, which is unfortunate, because she is a good actress.
Tyrone’s story fares the worst though, even though Gary Oldman gives perhaps the best performance in the film (though it is a subpar performance when compared to the rest of Oldman’s filmography). As a professor searching for answers related to a drug trial, Oldman has little to do other than sit around and stare at laptop screens or walk around various administrative buildings. This plot line seems like an attempt to do a corporate espionage style thriller, (perhaps along the lines of a movie like Michael Clayton), but like the rest of the movie it feels dull and lifeless. When the director is bringing the same amount of energy to a scene set in a corporate boardroom to a gunfight, it seems inevitable that the audience will grow bored.
Crisis is made with all the professionalism in the world, but it ends up feeling like a blank canvas. The digital cinematography removes a lot of the potential for beauty and ends up making most of the movie look like a car commercial. Scenes that could have been exciting fall completely flat. For example, take one scene in which Claire is trying to track down a gangster: she must get close to his car in order to take a picture of a serial number, but he catches her doing it. A scene like this has a lot of potential for intensity, but it ends up not registering at all. That is a shame, because Jarecki’s last film, Arbitrage, was a fun corporate thriller. Hopefully, his next project recaptures that energy.