Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"There's the sort of amount of material here that used to form the basis for an entire series of The Shield, so even with a running time of two hours, it's difficult for anything to be dwelt on in detail." | Photo: Quiver Distribution

When films like Steven Soderberg's Traffic used to take on the drugs trade, it was generally heroin or cocaine that was the 'bad guy' and now Nicholas Jarecki's latest turns its attention to the more everyday but equally deadly addiction caused by American's prescription opioid crisis. It's a big subject and Jarecki certainly doesn't lack ambition or good intent - as evidenced by his previous financial thriller Arbitrage.

He comes at the drug idea from multiple angles, although this time he struggles to make its dustier, more corporate elements fully gel with its more traditional thriller and melodrama trappings. There's the sort of amount of material here that used to form the basis for an entire series of The Shield, so even with a running time of two hours, it's difficult for anything to be dwelt on in detail although the high calibre acting and decent pace mean it's never less than watchable.

The main arc of the story concerns a drug deal being brokered by Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer) a DEA agent who, with an addicted sister (Lily Rose-Depp), has very personal reasons for wanting to work undercover as a trafficker in a bid to snare both the Armenian mob and a kingpin known as Mother (Guy Nadon). He doesn't know it yet but his path is going to cross that of recovering Oxycontin addict Claire (Evangeline Lilly, putting in a lot of good work in a role that could have benefited from a less pulpy character arc), a mum whose, apparently, squeaky clean son has just gone missing. Meanwhile, in the background, university professor Tyrone (Gary Oldman), who has spent much of his career rubber-stamping tests for Big Pharma, has just discovered that the latest "non-addictive" one to reach his lab has a whole heap of problems.

Opening with a fast-paced sequence in the snow that a James Bond producer would be proud of, Jarecki sets off at a gallop but because some of the nitty-gritty of this story is quite dry - regarding the way that Big Pharma use their muscle to get the results they want - he has the urge to lean into the melodramatics too hard elsewhere. This is particularly true of the brief subplot involving Jake's sister which is very sub-Law and Order and could easily have been jettisoned to give the film's other stories more room to breathe. Oldman has the most interesting and, perhaps, least familiar element of the story, as he finds himself trapped in a moral maze that he has partially constructed himself - although the ultimate resolution of this feels rather pat.

The other plot elements are solidly executed but very familiar as Jake's drug bust looms on the horizon and Claire, having found out what has happened to her son, begins to make plans of her own. It would be good to see Jarecki wean himself off multiple stories in future as you sense that if he focused on fitting in less, the end result would pack much more of a punch.

Reviewed on: 16 Mar 2021
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Crisis packshot
Interlocking stories shine a spotlight on America's opioid crisis.
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Director: Nicholas Jarecki

Writer: Nicholas Jarecki

Starring: Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, Lily-Rose Depp, Guy Nadon, Veronica Ferres

Year: 2021

Runtime: 118 minutes

Country: Canada, Belgium


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