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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Nicholas Jarecki
prd Cassian Elwes, Nicholas Jarecki
with Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear, Michelle Rodriguez, Luke Evans, Lily-Rose Depp, Guy Nadon, Veronica Ferres, Scott Mescudi, Mia Kirshner, Martin Donovan
release US 26.Feb.21,
Is it streaming?
Based on a real events, this ambitious film explores the opioid trade from three interwoven perspectives. There's driving intensity from the start, as writer-director Nicholas Jarecki packs each moment with facts as well as continuous story wrinkles in each of the story strands. This comprehensive approach adds plenty of interest, but it badly weakens the film's visceral impact. And the overuse of movie thriller cliches leaves everything feeling preposterous.
In Detroit, DEA operative Jake (Hammer) works undercover as a trafficker bringing pills across the border from Canada. He's motivated by his sister (Depp), who's in rehab but will never fully recover. Meanwhile, architect Claire (Lilly) is working on her own sobriety while investigating her unexpected connection to the opioid smuggling network. And when his research threatens a drug company, university professor Tyrone (Oldman) faces pressure from his boss (Kinnear) and his Big Pharma patron (Evans). Jake, Claire and Tyrone endure twists of fate that have consequences for them and wider implications across society.
The dialog has an enjoyable snap and crackle, even if it's overstuffed with details, offering both statistics and cautionary notes at every step. This barrage of information and a huge number of important but under-defined characters work together to undermine the stories' emotional angles, focussing more on the complex procedural aspects of all three plot threads. This allows the film to slowly build some momentum for the final act. But it remains intriguing rather than involving.
The gifted actors must work to make this dialog sound realistic, especially as their characters do inexplicable things. Oldman's sparky professor is engaging, deeply shaken by corporate nastiness as he tries to do the right thing. Hammer gives a steely edge to Jake, a tough-guy agent unwilling to admit he's losing control of his operation. And Lilly has the emotive role as a mother on a mission, adeptly conveying Claire's tenacity as she faces a series of scary situations. There are solid supporting players peppered around each scene, but pushy storytelling doesn't help anyone.
A variety of moral dilemmas help us engage with the characters, although there's never a question about what's right or wrong. And many of the plot's twists and turns are conveniently timed for maximum melodrama, mixing personal issues into bigger events for all three of the central characters. Jarecki may create a sense of urgency by touching many powerfully urgent angles around the topic, but aside from the film's educational value there's no path for the audience to crack into it in a meaningful way.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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