The crisis in question in Nicholas Jarecki's drama is the opioid epidemic, and like the film this will most inevitably be likened to, Steven Soderbergh's Traffic, Jarecki takes a multi-thread approach to examining such a complex, multi-dimensional issue. His real world research into the ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter shows in the varied vantage points presented here: first, the law enforcement angle, namely that of DEA agent Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer), who is on mission infiltrating border-crossing drug-running cartels; second, that of the ground-level, every day effects in households, here embodied by one Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly), who not only is rocked by a tragic drug-related loss, but is a recovering addict herself; and third, the attendant crisis that scientist Dr. Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman) finds himself in, as a research study he conducts for a pharmaceutical giant suddenly poses an ethical quandary that potentially endangers his career and life. Inevitably, these three threads will intertwine and/or collide, but Jarecki ably juggles the narrative concerns in a carefully balanced manner that takes time to flesh out detailed concerns specific to each perspective while making sure all are given their due, equal weight. What does feel given a bit of short shrift, however, are a couple of key perspectives that could've made for a fuller picture, that of young people caught up in the mess, and current addicts. While the former is touched on with Claire's teen son (Charles Champagne) and both are covered in Jake's addict sister (Lily-Rose Depp), both are only seen fairly briefly. But even if not as expansive as it could organically be, Jarecki generates the necessary dramatic momentum and suspense in each story to match the subject matter's relevance, and his incredibly stacked ensemble (which also includes the likes of Michelle Rodriguez, Kid Cudi, Greg Kinnear, Martin Donovan, and Indira Varma in smaller roles) make the proceedings consistently absorbing and the message all the more impactful.
Flora and Ulysses (PG)
A young girl named Flora (Matilda Lawler) strikes up an unlikely companionship with a squirrel (the Ulysses of the title) that is suddenly imbued with superintelligence and powers after an incident with a vacuum cleaner. Kate DiCamillo's children's novel sounds like perfectly typical source material for a perfectly typical live action family film from Disney, and to a certain degree, that is all true. But director Lena Khan's energetic touch, a winning cast, and solid visual effects make all the predictable fluff of the story (yes, there's a villain irrationally committed to capturing Ulysses) go down easy with audiences of all ages, even if only the youngest of the lot is likely to remember it for long once the brisk 95 minutes are over.