Crisis (2021)

Can We Overcome the Crisis Inflicted on Jarecki’s ‘Crisis’?

Are the injustices allegedly committed by actor Armie Hammer worth muzzling ‘Crisis’, a film that’s a window into the widespread injustices of Big Pharma?

Nicholas Jarecki
Elevation Pictures
26 February 2021 (US)

Nicholas Jarecki’s enjoyable second film, Crisis, is overshadowed by the offscreen controversies surrounding one of its stars, Armie Hammer.

Timing can be everything when it comes to success. Recently, on the Bret Easton Ellis podcast, Jarecki recounted an instance of terrible timing. On the verge of releasing Crisis, a multi-strand movie about the opioid epidemic, Jarecki saw that Hammer was trending on Twitter. Never a good sign.

Pretty soon, Hammer was embroiled in a most bizarre sex scandal. Jarecki and his crew were staring down the proverbial barrel of a gun. Should the release of the film be delayed? Planned features suddenly dissolved. The press coverage for the film was drying up or being completely warped by the Hammer angle. Jarecki interviewed with the Hollywood Reporter about the film to find that select quotes were used in an article about dropping stars who become too toxic.

Perhaps understandably, the rest of the cast got scared and backed off from promotional duties. But the idea that a film should not get seen because one cast member with 40-minutes of screen time has been mired in a troubling scandal is itself troubling.

By this criteria, if we were to discover the chequered pasts of every Hollywood player, all productions would be shut down. Initially, in the wake of the Hammer controversy, some critics noticed Crisis was being conspicuously panned by others – getting an RT rating of 26% – in a manner that suggested the scandal could be clouding their judgment.

But what about the film itself? Well, Crisis is an enjoyably pulpy, if flawed, film, in the style of a propulsive Michael Crichton narrative, while also resembling Soderbergh‘s Traffic (2000). Indeed, Crisis is a throwback to 1990s films about corporate malfeasances, such as Mann’s The Insider (1999).

The multi-plot narrative is made up of three loosely connected threads. Armie Hammer is Jake, an undercover DEA operative, who is planning a major opioid drug bust, spurred on by his sister’s (Lily-Rose Depp) opiate addiction. Evangeline Lilly plays Claire, a mother grieving her son, trying to get to the bottom of his untimely death. And in the most convincing thread that goes a long way in grounding the film, Gary Oldman plays Dr. Tyrone Brower, a university professor who discovers that a drug that is about to go to market is three times more addictive than Oxycotin.

The university wants to continue getting funding from the pharmaceutical company responsible. Tyrone feels impelled to blow the whistle. But then the company threatens to shame him with a sexual indiscretion. (Life imitates art.)

One wonders if Crisis had stayed locked on Tyrone’s plight it might have been more successful, like Jarecki’s debut Arbitrage (2012), which was suspenseful in its claustrophobia, centred solely on Richard Gere’s embattled business tycoon, Robert Miller. Tyrone’s thread is earthier and less high-octane than that of other films. But other such storylines are no less fun and rollicking for being somewhat unbelievable, and the dynamism of the fluently edited, panoramic film is exciting.

 At times, Crisis falls victim to its own ambition, but it’s edifying to see a well-crafted film for adults with such a sense of societal scope. It’s good to have access to films that strive for more than the procession of cookie-cutter, overrated Marvel movies on the assembly line. Crisis, for better and worse, has its own identity. It’s a well-paced and solidly engaging film. Although credulity is sometimes strained, the action is propulsive enough to warrant a recommendation.

Needless to say, this is a timely film. At the film’s close, a title card reads: “Over 100,000 people die from opioid overdose each year.”  While some critics might claim the pulpiness works against the message, the pleasingly fast-moving plot manages to shine a light on serious issues without being too much of a downer.

Whatever your standards for ideology in movies, there’s value in an entertaining film that zips along like this. By having a broader appeal, Crisis might very well forewarn members of the public to be more circumspect about what medications they ingest. 

So, are the injustices allegedly committed by Hammer worth muzzling a film that’s a window into the widespread injustices of Big Pharma? That’s for viewerw to decide. Nevertheless, Crisis has proven something of a crowd-pleaser as reflected by its Rotten Tomatoes high audience score, which was in stark relief to the critics’ score in the wake of the scandal.

Crisi, has been faring remarkably well with paying audiences on streaming. With regards to critics, eventually saner heads prevailed. The Tomatometer has become more reflective of the truth. The considerable backlash against the overly frosty reception suggests that viewers are not ready to have their critical faculties completely seized by hysteria just yet. 

While the culture in Hollywood was indisputably too permissive with talented wrongdoers in the past, there’s a danger of an overcorrection taking place. A single person becoming a target can fore-doom the work of dozens of others. If this is taken to too much of an extreme, cinema, a collaborative medium, will prove untenable, what with it becoming ever more endangered with the pandemic, and streaming platforms encroaching.

RATING 7 / 10