Tuesday, March 23, 2021


In theaters and streaming:

Crisis--With so many to choose from in the world right now, let me narrow it down: The title refers to the opioid crisis. Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki (of Arbitrage)  bounces between three strands, two of which eventually converge. The settings are Detroit and Montreal, tacitly making the point that while the southern border of the U.S. gets the hype as a sieve for drug trafficking, probably mostly for racist reasons the same activity, rapidly rising at the U.S./Canada border, gets much less attention.

Armie Hammer plays a wound-up undercover FBI agent trying to set up a complicated fentanyl bust between Armenian gangsters on the Detroit side and a powerful Montreal kingpin. His younger sister, played by Lily-Rose Depp, waiflike daughter of Johnny, is a junkie. Evangeline Lilly plays a single mother, herself a recovering addict, who loses her adored 16-year-old son to an apparent overdose. The devastated woman begins to probe the tragedy and soon learns that there may be more to it.

The third and most Ibsen-esque of the plotlines involves Gary Oldman as a college professor with a long history of more or less rubber-stamping studies for a big pharma company. When, thanks to a bit of over-diligence by one of his assistants, he gets an ominous result on a test for a new, supposedly non-addictive painkiller, the company tries to suppress his finding and he quickly finds himself bribed with funding and simultaneously threatened with loss of tenure, character assassination, etc.

Currently beleaguered by creepy scandal, Hammer gives a strong performance. I've sometimes found him a lackluster presence in his earlier films, but he has a bristling, vivid anger here that gives his scenes a charge, even though they're the most cop-movie conventional. Evangeline Lilly (whose name somehow sounds like a big pharma company) shows serious chops, getting across the woman's grief with painful believability. 

Even so, it's Oldman, in the least demonstrative of the three lead roles, who effortlessly walks off with the movie. With zero telegraphing, he shows us a person of ordinary character, maybe even a bit of a smug hack, who winds up in a deeply frightening position requiring moral courage.

Finally, a word should be said for the bad guys; Greg Kinnear as Oldman's boss, Veronica Ferres and Martin Donovan as the pharma honchos and Guy Nadon as the Quebecois gangster are all scary. They're as close as a realism gets to supervillians, and they're entirely convincing.

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