Review: Opioid-epidemic drama ‘Crisis’ misses the mark

Armie Hammer holds a gun
Ready to nail someone: Armie Hammer plays a driven DEA agent in one of the three opioid-epidemic storylines of “Crisis.” The film also stars Gary Oldman and Evangeline Lilly.
(Philippe Bosse)

The Los Angeles Times is committed to reviewing new theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries inherent risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the CDC and local health officials. We will continue to note the various ways readers can see each new film, including drive-in theaters in the Southland and VOD/streaming options when available.

“Crisis,” an attempted thriller about the opioid epidemic, unfortunately doesn’t bring the experience home.

For the record:

11:11 a.m. March 15, 2021This review incorrectly references the prescription pain medicine OxyContin. The film uses the generic term “oxy.”

12:51 p.m. Feb. 24, 2021An earlier version of this review said the super-drug kills users within 10 days. It killed lab mice within 10 days during its development.

The movie is a multiple-narrative look at the misuse of the likes of fentanyl, oxycodone and heroin that, according to HHS, afflicted more than 1.6 million Americans in 2019. It’s a raging epidemic exacting a dreadful human toll, but “Crisis” doesn’t share it in a meaningful, emotional way; it feels like research dressed as a drama.


There are three storylines: DEA agent Jake (Armie Hammer) wants to take out both Armenian-American and Canadian cartels by setting up a fentanyl sting; recovering-addict mom Claire (Evangeline Lilly) goes on a mission of vengeance; and principled professor Tyrone (Gary Oldman) discovers something very wrong with a soon-to-market designer opioid.

Multiple-narrative, issue movies tend to be problematic largely because of how difficult it is for a filmmaker to craft one storyline that grips viewers throughout, much less three or more. Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” is the gold standard for a reason. Even the official plot summary of “Crisis” seems confused about the storylines, claiming they collide (two do; perhaps they figured two out of three ain’t bad, but it all ends up a kind of cinematic meatloaf).

The sting scenario is handled sufficiently, though in a paint-by-numbers fashion. It fails to thrill or surprise, its turns visible miles away. Hammer’s driven performance helps, but the film’s attempt to motivate Jake by giving him an addicted sister (Lily Rose-Depp) feels artificial. The mom investigation is improbable. The film’s stated position is that police are bad at their jobs and this inexperienced, suburban person can easily solve the international crime that befuddles them — while also cracking a cartel.

The most compelling story line is the professor vs. Big Pharma and his own university. Oldman (an executive producer on the film) convincingly portrays Tyrone’s inner struggle as he risks losing everything to try to head off a public-health crisis, if his data are correct. Even then, writer-director Nicholas Jarecki (“Arbitrage”) stacks the deck. The super-drug that’s not supposed to be addictive turns out to be three times as addictive as OxyContin and kills lab mice in 10 days to boot. Somehow the drug company didn’t notice that in its years of development and doesn’t mind the countless wrongful-death lawsuits sure to flood the courts. This is akin to “The Day After Tomorrow” tackling the very real and present crisis of climate change with a super-bogeyman (magically powerful storms); it doesn’t make the case.

Whatever its goals, the filmmaking is uninspired. It’s heavily reliant on clichés, especially in its use of score, the lone-wolf cop and familiar devices to build tension.

The film also openly endorses street justice. On the bright side, that leads to the wisest moment in “Crisis,” though perhaps unintentionally so: After an act of vengeance, a character asks, “What am I supposed to do now?” The answer: “I don’t know.”


Rated: R for drug content, violence and language throughout
Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes
Playing: In theaters Feb. 26 (at the Cinelounge Drive-In) and on digital & On Demand on March 5.