Plus, director Nicholas Jarecki shares what to expect from the dramatic thriller.

By Ruth Kinane
January 27, 2021 at 12:00 PM EST
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Credit: Philippe Bosse/Quiver Distribution

Sure, you can't turn on the news without hearing (as you should) about the current pandemic, but there's another raging epidemic that isn't going away any time soon: the opioid crisis.

That issue is a the forefront of director Nicholas Jarecki's (Arbitrage) new dramatic thriller, Crisis. Starring Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), — who also serves as a producer — Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name), Evangeline Lilly (Avengers: Endgame), and Greg Kinnear (As Good as it Gets), the tense tale of the impact opioids have across all walks of life arrives in theaters February 26 and on digital and demand March 5. EW can exclusively reveal the trailer, below.

"I always like these films that have multiple stories going on; the films of high and low," director Jarecki tells EW. "Here, we look at the opioid issue all the way from the billionaires who control the pharmaceutical companies with their private jets and their mansions, down to the drug traffickers and smugglers, and also those directly affected by the opioids; users, addicts, and people with family in trouble. This crisis crosses all walks of life. Addiction doesn't discriminate. It's hitting like a category five hurricane, everywhere and it continues to hit."

Those interwoven storylines follow Dr. Tyrone Brower (Oldman), a university professor who battles unexpected revelations about his research employer, a major pharmaceutical company bringing a new "non-addictive" painkiller to market; Jake Kelly (Hammer), an undercover DEA agent who attempts to infiltrate an international Fentanyl smuggling operation; and Claire Reimann (Lilly), an architect recovering from an oxycodone addiction who tracks down the truth behind her son's involvement with narcotics. "We wanted to bring awareness to the opioid topic without being preachy," explains Jarecki, who describes his movie as similar to genre thrillers such as Traffic, Michael Clayton, and L.A. Confidential. "It's a thrilling ride, but you get to work not only your gut but your brain and your heart too. We try to go deeper with the characters and really get into the emotion. When you build out the character more, it's not just about the explosion — and that's what takes you on the journey."

Credit: Quiver Distribution

To ensure maximum authenticity of all the human stories, the writer-director put in the work, doing as much research on the ongoing epidemic as possible. "These stories are all based on real events, people I knew, or stories I heard," he says. "I worked with reporters from different publications that had covered the opioid crisis, as well as an undercover narcotics detective who has run the sheriff's task force on prescription abuse, and scientists inside pharmaceutical companies. When I was writing, I wanted to peel back, what did the corporations know? What did the regulators know? It's a very complicated topic. It's not an indictment on any one group, but how did we let things get so out of control? Your friend, family member, husband, wife, is now battling a life-threatening addiction and it could be through no fault of their own. People got prescribed pills because they hurt their back on the job and now they're battling a demon."

Acutely aware of the urgency of the topic and eager to increase awareness, Jarecki took the idea and script to Oldman, who shared his views. "He said, 'Let's work together. Use my name; let's make this movie,'" says Jarecki. "All the cast worked for nothing, they cut their rates because they saw this — as Gary says in the movie — as 'The biggest public health crisis since tobacco.' Right now, COVID, is the number one, but COVID is something we're actually doing something about. The opioid crisis didn't go anywhere. It just went off the front page, but there are still hundreds of thousands dying."

Adding a sense of scale to the thriller drama is, what Jarecki describes as, an "artisanal approach" to filmmaking. "We're kind of old-school filmmakers, inspired by Nolan and Tarantino," he says. "We try to give you something gritty and real and beautiful at the same time." Jarecki achieved that look by shooting on 35mm Kodak film and believes it's that aesthetic teamed with the cast's nuanced performances that make the movie both "thrilling and cinematic."

Rounding out the cast and also delivering impactful performances that give a human face to this crisis, are Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, Lily-Rose Depp, Scott "Kid Cudi" Mescudi, Duke Nicholson, Veronica Ferres, and Martin Donovan. Though many of those characters fall into the territory of "anti-heroes," for Jarecki that's what makes them relatable and allows the audience to identify with their struggles. "The question is, can one person make a difference?" he says. "Can the little guy or gal stand up and make a change? Sometimes to make a change, you've got to go gangster. You've got to color outside the lines — and that's also what makes it fun."

Watch the trailer above. Crisis arrives in theaters February 26 and on digital and demand March 5.

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