THRILLER; 1hr 58min
STARRING: Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly
Testing times: Oldman
First up, the on-set elephant: is it possible to consider writer-director Nicholas Jarecki’s tensely constructed, fact-drawn thriller about the rampant tentacles of the US opioid trade without pivoting to the 2021 revelations of Armie Hammer’s allegedly inky sexual proclivities? Probably not, but nor is that a fatal distraction. It might have been if Hammer were playing a saint, say. As matters stand, his character, Detroit-based Drug Enforcement Administration undercover agent Jack Kelly, is a terse talker for whom likability isn’t on the cards as he beavers sternly towards a grand-slam Canadian-Armenian fentanyl bust. Nor should the calibre of Hammer’s performance be at issue. As one of a pumped ensemble telling three exacting stories, his hard-nosed operative fits right in.
The other two players are Oldman as mild-mannered university chemistry professor Dr Tyrone Brower, whose research into an about-to-be-released, supposedly non-addictive opioid is resulting in a bunch of dead mice, and Lilly as architect and recovering oxycodone addict Claire Reimann, who is simultaneously grieving and investigating the loss of her teenage son. Where Kelly is all devious schemes and flinty reactions, Brower and Reimann are the feeling embodiment of consequence.
There are obvious parallels between Jarecki’s pacey mosaic and director Steven Soderbergh’s multi-faceted 2000 drug drama, the award-winning Traffic. Twenty-one years down the track, the concerns of both films are still necessarily similar. Whatever form they take, addictive drugs spawn killing fields of predators and prey — and never more insidiously than when rubber-stamped by the iron fist of big pharma.