By Alex McPherson

A soul-stirring examination of love, injustice, and the American Dream, director Heidi Ewing’s new film, “I Carry You With Me,” will stay with me for a long time to come.

Based on a true story, the film centers around Iván (Armando Espitia), an aspiring chef living in Puebla, Mexico, and barely making enough money to support his wife and young child. Iván is also gay and remains unable to freely express himself. While visiting a nightclub with his good-humored best friend, Sandra (Michelle Rodríguez), he meets a charismatic schoolteacher named Gerardo (Christian Vazquez). After spending the night together, the two fall passionately in love, yet their relationship is fraught with danger. It doesn’t take long before Iván’s wife finds out about Gerardo, and she promptly cuts Iván off from interacting with her or their son. Devastated and lacking opportunities for economic mobility, Iván decides to illegally cross the border into the U.S., then onto New York City, with hopes of a new beginning.

Veering elegantly between several timelines, “I Carry You with Me” presents a heartbreaking story of rebellion against prejudice. Ewing’s film urges viewers to treat those in similar situations with respect, dignity, and appreciation of the sacrifices they make in pursuit of a better life. 

Beginning with documentary footage of the real Iván riding the metro in NYC, the bulk of the film takes place through flashbacks that illuminate his story in an engrossing fashion — echoing his nostalgia for years gone by and fears for his uncertain future. Espitia powerfully conveys Iván’s internal conflicts, including regarding the legal consequences of being an undocumented immigrant, with a mournful air that sparks empathy from the moment we lay eyes on him. Vazquez delivers an effective performance, but it’s clear the film’s attention rests mainly on Iván’s character. Their bond is the film’s core, and Ewing emphasizes the difficulties of maintaining it in the face of biased, heteronormative standards.

Several sequences remind me of Barry Jenkins’ filmography in how the editing and camerawork evoke complex emotions in a manner that’s rarely pretentious, but deeply tender. “I Carry You With Me” is not an uplifting film by any means, but the film creates instances of beauty that radiate from the screen. Ewing proceeds to counter those moments in scenes that inspire anger, frustration, and sympathy for the lead characters — rendering fleeting moments of relief all the more poignant, and emphasizing the tragedy of what’s lost through existing in a world drenched in inequality. 

From its opening frames, “I Carry You With Me” has a strong sense of place, and Ewing’s documentarian background is on full display. The cluttered cityscapes and wide open rural prairies, often draped in darkness, visualize an environment equally overwhelming and restrictive — one which holds memories both joyous and tragic for our protagonists. Indeed, as the central romance blossoms, “I Carry You With Me” takes detours into both men’s childhoods, showcasing threats from their respective fathers to abandon their homosexuality. These well-acted sequences, though undeniably difficult to watch, underscore what’s at stake.

The concept of memory, in fact, plays a huge role in the film as a whole — especially when it switches to a more traditional documentary style in its last third — where we observe how Iván and Gerardo have been morphed by the past, retaining only pieces of their former selves as they make tough decisions in service of love and personal growth.

Although the nonlinear structure gives more attention to Iván than Gerardo, “I Carry You With Me” is an altogether impressive film, formulating a persuasive cry for justice for all human beings, regardless of sexual orientation or place of origin, with lyrical verve. While Ewing may be preaching to the choir, her film depicts lives whose stories are absolutely worth telling, and which should be carried in our hearts.

“I Carry You With Me” is a 2020 drama directed by Heidi Ewing and starring Armando Espitia and Christian Vasquez. It is rated R for language and brief nudity and runs 1 hour, 51 minutes. Alex’s Grade: A-. It is available in selected St. Louis theatres on July 2 and available virtually at the Tribeca Film Festival (Tribeca at Home through June 23).

By Alex McPherson
Writer-director Nicholas Jarecki’s third feature directorial effort, “Crisis,” provides an ambitious and gritty look at America’s opioid epidemic.

Jarecki’s film centers around three individuals experiencing the issue from wildly different angles. Dr. Tyrone Brower (Gary Oldman) is a biochemist and university professor testing a new “non-addictive” painkiller developed by Northlight, a large pharmaceutical company.

After running experiments on lab rats, Brower finds that the drug is, in fact, dangerously addictive. Unsurprisingly, both the company and Brower’s university aren’t too pleased with this conclusion. Northlight officials offer Brower’s university a large grant in exchange for falsifying the data — paving the way for its FDA approval. Brower becomes a whistleblower, and he must deal with the repercussions for both his personal and professional life.

Viewers also meet Jake Kelly (Armie Hammer, undergoing his own career in crisis), a law enforcement agent working undercover amidst Armenian and Canadian drug traffickers, the latter of whom is led by a burly sap named Mother (Guy Nadon). Kelly also cares for his unstable, drug-addicted sister, Emmie (Lily Rose-Depp). Pressured to make arrests by his newly hired supervisor, Garrett (Michelle Rodriguez), Kelly and his work partner, Stanley Foster (Jarecki), attempt to set up a sting operation by bringing the two rival groups together. Suffice it to say, complications arise, and the bodies start piling up.

But wait, there’s more! The film follows architect and former addict Claire Reimann (Evangeline Lilly), who seeks revenge after her teenage son, David (Billy Bryk), is suddenly found dead in broad daylight, after having died from an apparent drug overdose. Reimann soon uncovers a deeper, more sinister plot. She desperately seeks answers as her world crumbles around her.

Whew, and all that unfolds in a two-hour film?! Yes, dear reader, “Crisis” provides a lot to chew on, to say the least. Even though the film’s emotional impact is undermined by a jack-of-all-trades approach, these stories, inspired from true events, still hold a certain power. 

Indeed, I appreciate the topics covered — showing how ordinary people become enveloped in an epidemic pervaded by violence and the preying of those less fortunate. Even though the film’s condemnation of corporate greed and the ways addiction destroys lives isn’t anything particularly new, this is still essential information, packaged into an accessible (though at times bland) thriller/modern noir hybrid.

As the film alternates between these three characters, “Crisis” effectively puts a human face on the suffering inflicted by profiteers on the general population. Reimann stands out in particular. She’s wracked with grief and driven by a fierce, self-destructive determination. We really feel for her, and Lilly’s performance, uncompromising and vivid, stands out from the rest.

Brower’s plotline involves a lot of sitting and talking, but remains compelling throughout. Of course, the shadiness of some pharmaceutical companies has long been clear, and it’s impossible for a single man to stand up to them. It’s easy to see the trajectory of Brower’s story, but the film provides several moments of righteous indignation, where Oldman (always an endearing actor) raises his voice and argues for truth over lies.

That brings us to Kelly. Although Hammer’s portrayal is a bit muted at times, his underlying rage is apparent. It’s a shame, then, that “Crisis” doesn’t let us spend more time with him and his sister outside of his undercover operations. The scenarios he finds himself in feel similar to practically every other crime film I’ve seen. 

What results is a film painted with broad strokes rather than a more focused exploration of any particular character. These stories would have benefited from a television-style format, where specific episodes are devoted to specific characters. Bouncing back and forth between them, “Crisis” doesn’t leave much time for reflection. Add to that a Hollywoodized finale that breaks from reality and ties some characters’ arcs up into a neat bow, and we have a film that ultimately underwhelms.

Similarly, Jarecki’s filmmaking techniques are competent, but they lack flair or a distinctive style — clean and precise without remaining particularly memorable.

All this aside, “Crisis” is still highly watchable, and at times quite suspenseful. It’s a shame that recent revelations about Hammer will likely deter many viewers from watching it, as there’s much to enjoy, especially in regard to Reimann’s journey and Lilly’s heart-wrenching performance.

“Crisis” remains a solid recommendation, despite its overstuffed nature, and tackles subject matter that shouldn’t fade from public consciousness.

“Crisis” is a drama written and directed by Nicholas Jarecki, starring Gary Oldman, Evangeline Lilly, Armie Hammer, Lily-Rose Depp, BIlly Bryk and Greg Kinnear. Rated R for drug content, violence, and language throughout, the run time is 1 hour, 58 minutes. It will be released in theaters Feb. 26 and on video on demand March 5. Alex’s Rating: B