As a child of the 1980s and 1990s, Nicholas Jarecki loved blockbusters. Back to the Future, Top Gun. As he got older, he watched old videotapes of Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico, studying the work of Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, and later Christopher Nolan. But Jarecki’s journey to behind the camera has a singular moment that most other filmmakers lack – before he ever realized he’d be a filmmaker.
As a teenager, Jarecki worked with computers, a Commodore 64, learning basic. He says he found it satisfying, to stay up late and learn how to code, when he should have been doing his homework. He connected with the hackers behind the magazine 2600, meeting with them in the NYC Civic Corps building one day when in walked director Iain Softley and his two soon-to-be stars Johnny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie, searching for help for Hackers.
“‘We’re making a movie about hacking, can anyone help us?’ they asked,” the director of Arbitrage and the upcoming Crisis shares with a chuckle. “Someone said, ‘Yeah, talk to Nick!’ It was my job to hang out with them, make props, explain things. I taught them how to make a redbox and get free calls on public telephones. I did prep production, down on set.”
“I had wonderful experience as a young man. I said I wanted to become a director. I was fascinated by all the different things that directors did. I wanted authenticity like the directors I appreciated who went to the community and did a lot of research.”
In 2012, Jarecki directed Arbitrage, a thriller about a New York City hedge fund manager (Richard Gere) who manages funds with his daughter (Brit Marling), but whose success masks a loan of over four hundred million dollars. He researched the Wall Street crisis, interviewed hedge fund managers, preparing for something detailed and intelligent, while also entertaining and thrilling.
“That approach to filmmaking, like Michael Mann or Catherine Bigelow, was about living in the details,” he explained. “It makes the films feel bigger than they would otherwise.”
The young filmmaker saw how directors told multiple stories from different viewpoints, like 21 Grams, Traffic, and L.A. Confidential. While that storytelling has shifted mostly to television, it’s the style he loves and the one he chose for Crisis, the thriller coming out this week about the opioid crisis.
Boasting a cast that includes Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear, Michelle Rodriguez, and Luke Evans, the film follows a university researcher who discovers that the drug his team has been researching has dangerous side effects, an undercover agent seeking to take down a drug smuggling scheme, and a woman desperate for answers about her son’s overdose. It’s complicated and seemingly disparate, but the director wrote the intricate plot using real-world details he discovered.
As he researched the script, Jarecki met with a variety of individuals involved with opioids, but nothing was as personal as his own reflections on friends who were alive one day and gone the next thanks to an overdose. He met with the actors to hear their ideas, concerns, and experiences, and then shot the film on 35 mm, planning for the big screen. In shooting the film, he ended up with a three-hour cut, but instead of discarding elements of the film, he edited them into montages, using Raphael Reed’s score to build the emotion and keep the audience connected throughout. But the thriller has teeth, challenging the audience to consider the opioid crisis and how close to home it really is.
“It’s insidious,” the director said. “The recovery rates are one or two people in ten. I think we’re coming to understand that addicts aren’t the enemy but the victim. We have a failure to supervise in our environment or society. I lost people close to me to the opioid crisis many years ago but didn’t understand, ‘why isn’t my friend here?’”
The pills that his friends became addicted to were created in a lab, and Jarecki knows that there’s great hope for the pain they can take away but there is also “corporate product motive.” He says that twenty to fifty percent of the people who use opioids become addicted, and asks questions about the research and incentives.
Crisis is a gripping, tautly designed thriller, but it leaves the audience asking, as Jarecki had hoped, ‘how did we get here?’
Crisis is in theaters on February 26 and On Demand March 5.