EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE (2021)

April 1, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Psychological Thrillers can be quite fun to watch when well-written and well-acted. It’s a delicate balance though, since if even one of those elements is lacking, the enjoyment level plummets and the eye-rolling begins. Unfortunately this film from director Vaughn Stein (TERMINAL, 2018) and screenwriter David Murray (his first feature film) is a masterclass in eye-rolling, despite a well-respected and familiar cast.

Oscar winner Casey Affleck (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, 2016) and Michelle Monaghan star as married couple Dr. Philip and Grace Clark. He works at a Psychiatry Institute and she’s a local Real Estate Agent. An early scene shows adoring mother Grace driving their young son to hockey practice. Tragedy strikes, and since that night, Philip and Grace barely speak to each other or his teenage daughter (by another mother) Lucy (India Eisley, daughter of Olivia Hussey). All three are grieving in their own way – emotionally isolated from the others. Grace aggressively swims laps day and night in the pool at their stunning modern mansion. Lucy has been expelled from her private school for snorting cocaine during Science Lab. Philip immerses himself in his work with clients, and we know he’s smart because he’s wearing glasses.

One client with whom Philip takes a special interest is Daphne (Emily Alyn Lind, DOCTOR SLEEP, 2019), a troubled young lady from a troubled family. To help Daphne deal with boyfriend issues, Philip uses unconventional personal therapy, which he then presents as a Case Study for students … against the wishes of his boss and friend Vanessa (Veronica Ferres). This backfires when Daphne seemingly commits suicide, and her grieving brother James (Sam Claflin, THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY) shows up.

At this point, everyone is grieving and Philip’s career begins to crumble as he’s blamed for Daphne’s suicide. James turns on the charm for Grace and Lucy, and even though the characters don’t get it, every viewer will recognize what’s happening, why it’s happening, and where it’s headed. Even this would be fine if things played out in a clever manner, rather than over-the-top and obvious. Even the Rorschach inkblot tests used as artwork in the pristine Clark mansion are cause for eye rolls. Claflin probably has the most fun of any with his role, but it’s Monaghan who comes closest to molding a full dimensional human out of her character. Affleck just adds yet another despondent, joyless character to his resume … though he does get to throw one tantrum while sitting in his car – alone, of course. Fortunately, these actors will assuredly move on to projects more worthy of their talents.

In select theatres and premium VOD on April 2, 2021

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CRISIS (2021)

February 25, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. The best thrillers often interweave multiple story lines to create a complex web of detail for viewers to unwind. Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki (ARBITRAGE, 2012) serves up three story lines, all related to the current Opioid crisis. Although the film looks great and has a deep cast, we’ve seen most of this before and no new insight is provided in regards to the struggle. Instead, it’s really standard thriller fare that never goes deep enough into any of the characters to make us care.

Armie Hammer (along with the recent personal baggage attached to him) stars as Jake Kelly, a DEA Agent who has worked undercover in hopes of exposing the Armenian-Canadian-American drug traffickers responsible for a significant portion of opioids crossing the border. Hammer spends the entire movie with an intensely furrowed brow that would likely inspire distrust amongst any potential drug syndicates.

In storyline number 2, Evangeline Lilly (Wasp in the ANT-MAN movies) is Claire Reimann, an architect and recovering drug addict, who is out for vengeance when her beloved high school athlete son is found dead with drugs in his system. The third segment features Oscar winner Gary Oldman (DARKEST HOUR, 2017) as Dr. Tyrone Brower, a science professor at a private Detroit university. He runs a drug-testing lab and faces a moral dilemma when questionable lab results for “the first non-addictive painkiller” puts people at risk, not to mention funding for his work.

Any one of these actors or stories could carry the weight of a movie, but when combined, they succeed only in crushing the entertainment value and tension level. Oldman’s story is easily the most interesting. It addresses how Big Pharma gets new drugs rubber-stamped by funding otherwise cash-strapped labs and schools. There is also the skepticism involved with the drug-producer’s influence over the supposedly independent FDA, and on top of all that, there is the ethical concerns of everyone putting the almighty dollar ahead of safety.

Director Jarecki (the brother of Andrew Jarecki who directed the superb 2003 documentary CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS) kicks off the movie with a beautifully filmed, albeit brief, chase scene through the snowy Canadian forest. In fact, the camera work throughout is fine. It’s really the overloaded script that prevents any of the stories or characters from clicking. Mr. Oldman seems to sense that he needs to overcome the lack of complexity in his story, and because of the effort, loses his usual reserved cerebral approach for which he’s known.

Supporting work is provided by Greg Kinnear as the Dean willing to sacrifice ethics and friendship for money, Michelle Rodriguez as the DEA supervisor in a budget crunch, and Lily-Rose Depp as Jake’s strung out sister. Also contributing are Indira Varma, John Ralston, Martin Donovan, Mia Kirshner, Kid Cudi, Michael Aronov, Luke Evans, and Veronica Ferres. The weakest link here is director Jarecki himself, who for some reason, thought he could play Jake’s partner … a role that would have benefited from a more refined actor.

The horrific effects of the Opioid crisis are known to most, and the film plays like a Wikipedia explanation for anyone who doesn’t read or watch the news. Certainly not helping is the “Miami Vice” type score that accompanies many scenes, and the choppy editing that causes many scenes to fail. Better movies in this genre would include THE INSIDER (1999, ironically directed by “Miami Vice” creator Michael Mann) and Soderbergh’s TRAFFIC (2000). The obstacles faced by whistleblowers, the importance of funding to academia, budgetary concerns for law enforcement, the tragic impact of drugs on families, and the systemic corruption that has fueled the epidemic … all of these are touched on. It’s just that it all seems too obvious. If somehow you didn’t already know, the money-hungry don’t play fair – whether they be drug dealers or drug companies.

The film will hit theaters on February 26, 2021 and Digital and On Demand March 5, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER