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In the middle of a pandemic, Nicholas Jarecki is releasing a movie that tackles an U.S. epidemic.
“Remember before the pandemic, you would open up the New York Times, and every day the front page was an opioid story?” says Jarecki. The writer-director, who was behind the Wall Street corruption movie Arbitrage, is set to release his latest feature, Crisis. The movie tackles the opioid epidemic through three converging stories— an undercover federal officer organizing a smuggling operation, a recovering addict trying to find out the truth behind her son’s overdose, and a university professor at odds with his employer, a pharmaceutical company.
Jarecki— who has several friends that are currently battling opioid addictions, while some have fatally overdosed— began writing Crisis several years ago while talking with actor Gary Oldman about collaborating on a project. He says, “We had been talking about a historical project together, but then I started writing this. I came to him and said, ‘Look, I think this is pretty urgent.’” Oldman agreed, signing on to produce the feature and star, alongside an ensemble that includes Evangeline Lily, Armie Hammer, Luke Evans, and Michelle Rodriguez, among others.
Ahead of the movie’s Feb. 26 day-and-date release, Jarecki talked to THR about Crisis.
How did making Arbitrage, a movie about corruption in corporate America and Wall Street, prepare you for the research and the making of Crisis?
Whenever you see something weird in life, just look around, there is someone probably getting rich from it. And it’s probably not right. I think it was [Honoré de] Balzac who said, “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” I felt like that was very applicable in Arbitrage, and it is quite applicable here as well. In the case of Arbitrage and Adam McKay also covered this in The Big Short, the person who is ultimately screwed over is the little guy. The main street homeowner who was evicted or foreclosed on or couldn’t get a job in 2008. But here in the case of opioids, we have something very specific where they were designed in a lab. They were tested. They look at how they affect the human brain. Am I saying ban opioids? No. I’m saying put the money into research, put the money into further breakthroughs, put the money into figuring out how to not overprescribe, not compensate doctors with cruises to the Caribbean.
I think there is a shift in this country now in terms of its understanding of addiction. I’ve seen a shift I feel like in the last ten years towards understanding that addiction is a disease and it is something that affects everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, it doesn’t matter where you come from, if you are one of the people unlucky enough to have an addiction as a disease, genetically, it can really hurt you and it can really hurt any family. Like, Michael Douglas says in Traffic, and it was a line that inspired me a lot, he says, “I don’t know how you wage war on your own family.”
You have a massive ensemble cast in this film. How did that come together?
A lot of the people in the movie are people that are friends of mine, that I have had a personal relationship with. From there I really just started calling whoever, and saying, “Hey, I’m making this movie about the opioid crisis. I know that’s important to you because we have talked about it. I have no money for you but would you like to come to Montreal in the freezing cold for a week and stay in an inexpensive hotel and make me make this opioid movie?” And really everybody was like, “Yeah, I’ll be there tomorrow”. I don’t believe that movies are a form of social change. I think there was some old studio executive that said— if you want to send a message, call Western Union. So I’m there with him. But at the same time, movies have the power to move us, to open our minds, to make us think about new things. So I think that’s why everybody got into it. They feel some sense of social responsibility or excitement to communicate an idea to the public. It’s an urgent public health issue. COVID has relegated it off the front page but I just had a friend die last week of an overdose. And these are young people, this was a person in their twenties. People are tired of it. I think there’s gonna be even more energy put together to galvanize some type of change in society.
Were there talks about holding the movie when theaters were open again?
We had gotten Universal Pictures as our international distributor along with Warner Brothers, who was doing the U.K., but we had kept the U.S. [rights] and we were trying to figure out what to do. So the week we were gonna [test] the rough cut in the U.S., COVID hit. So, we pressed pause on that. But ultimately I ended up going with the very nimble distributor named Quiver in the U.S. With Arbitrage, we did the day and date model. And Arbitrage is to this point the highest-grossing day and date independent film in cinema history. So it’s a model I’m familiar with.
Given the online controversy surrounding Armie Hammer, has anything been done to minimize his presence in the marketing of the film?
Armie is not doing any press for the movie. He’s not putting himself forward. You have to continue on without him and focus on the aspects of the film that you have.
How is it to be releasing the film in the middle of a pandemic that has seen a rise in opioid overdoses?
Well, I think we asked ourselves, “Hey, is it the right time?” People are seeing a lot of pandemic stories on TV, do they really want to hear an epidemic story? But I think the film is not bleak or depressing in my opinion. You have essentially a bunch of anti-heroes who are fighting the establishment. That’s the type of character I like. They don’t give a fuck about what society says it’s supposed to be, they have their own sense that a moral wrong is occurring and they put themselves forward at great risk in order to try to do something about it.
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