Nicholas Jarecki’s Crisis suffered the misfortune of being releases just weeks after some outrageously awful PR for co-star Armie Hammer (who is undeniably quite good here). That’s a shame, as this multi-layered exploration of the opioid crisis is a fine film, one written with empathy, acted with passion, and directed with efficiency. It is hard to escape the sense that we have seen variations of the three main stories before — an undercover DEA agent, a crusading medical researcher, a recovering addict mother whose life is torn apart by the illegal drug trade — and that keeps Crisis from greatness. However, the film deserves to be seen. The strongest story, by far, is centered on a drug researcher and college professor played by Gary Oldman. Upon finding that a soon-to-be-approved wonder drug is addictive, he faces a moral dilemma, one that could cost him his livelihood. There is a freshness to this particular tale; it is not often we’ve seen the ethics of big-money scientific research or the ambiguity of academic tenure onscreen. I could not help but think that Crisis could have made an appropriately sprawling streaming series, but as a two-hour film, it is still an admirable and passionate effort from the talented Jarecki.
The latest from the great Christian Petzold (Phoenix, Transit) is without question one of the most delightfully mysterious — and best — films of 2021. The hypnotic blend of fantasy and memory stars the splendid Paula Beer as a Berlin historian recovering from a breakup and the always reliable Franz Rogowski as a professional diver who falls for her. Playing with myth, Berlin history, and emotional trauma, Petzold crafts a film both unsettling and uniquely memorable.
OK, here is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises. I held out little hope for Disney’s live-action Cruella De Vil origin story, and admittedly, it is hard to call the film necessary. Yet director Craig Gillespie and star Emma Stone have fashioned a wildly entertaining, enjoyable over-the-top success that managed to please my kids and me equally. Stone is marvelous, and equally strong are villainess Emma Thompson and the delightful duo of Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. The setting — 1960s and 70s London — is part of the charm. But what makes Cruella really work is that Gillespie and company truly embrace the over-the-top plot and run with it.
A Quiet Place Part II: B+
Another somewhat surprising success is John Krasinski’s sequel to A Quiet Place. Why is it surprising? While the first film was enjoyably suspenseful, the nature of the story seemed difficult to continue effectively. However, it is a more expansive tale that is full of surprises. Emily Blunt is as strong here as she was in the first film, as are Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe as her determined but ever-stressed children. The greatest addition here is Cillian Murphy as a neighbor who reluctantly assists the family in their quest to stay alive. Featuring some stupendous parallel editing and killer jolts, A Quiet Place Part II is a fine film to herald the full-scale return to cinemas. The ultra-sudden ending is a bit of a letdown — although it is no surprise, really — but seeing Western New York sights and people on-screen adds to the fun.