"The Crime of the Century is a difficult, sorrowful exploration of how widespread avarice led to mass murder and why no one seems willing to stop it," says Meghan O'Keefe of Gibney's two-part, four-hour documentary, premiering Monday. She adds: "The underlying horror in The Crime of the Century is that opioid epidemic doesn’t have just one villain. It has countless villains, many of whom are ironically victims of opioid addiction themselves...Ultimately, Gibney shows that the Sacklers weren’t the only menaces in this situation. The flames of opioid epidemic were fanned by greedy public officials happy to take bribes from Purdue in order to fudge FDA rulings and doctors who saw a way to make a quick buck. Ambitious pharmaceutical reps used predatory tactics to slide opioids into patients’ hands. And whenever the DEA found a way to crack down, the opioid crisis would erupt in new, awful ways, like the heads of a hydra. The most powerful moments in The Crime of the Century come from the stories of people caught up in the tsunami of hurt the opioid epidemic created."
The Crime of the Century is good but not great because the opioid crisis has been well-covered: "Ultra-prolific documentarian Alex Gibney really needs to slow down his output," says Daniel Fienberg. "He may be a machine, but I’m but a man incapable of generating five-to-10 Gibney-specific review ledes per year. Alternatively, ultra-prolific documentarian Alex Gibney really needs to speed up his output. Like seemingly everybody else these days, Gibney is steadily finding things to take umbrage at, but even at his outrageous current pace, there’s a real risk of even typically thorough Gibney productions feeling like nourishing-but-reheated leftovers. Welcome to Gibney’s The Crime of the Century, a four-hour HBO documentary chronicling the deepening morass of the opioid crisis in America. It’s a project of well-earned pique, unfolding with Gibney’s strong sense of cause-and-effect. But this is one of those instances where it’s hard to imagine viewers settling in for four hours of burgeoning irritation without having already learned nearly all of the pertinent facts from a dozen previous books, newspaper exposés, segments on every TV news magazine imaginable and long-term comic treatments from The Daily Show to Full Frontal to Last Week Tonight. The opioid crisis isn’t over, so Gibney isn’t exactly late to the party, but there’s no question that the pizza with the freshest toppings has been gone for a while."
This is one of Alex Gibney's most explosive documentaries, but it also has to be one of his most overzealous in how it's all presented: "Indeed, no ominous drone shot of the Purdue Pharma building is spared (though the final one is a good kicker), and the same goes for close-ups of pills with OC stamped on them," says Nick Allen. "And any time Gibney can throw in a recognizable song to lead a sequence, he goes for it, like when footage of opioid crime is accompanied by John Denver's 'Take Me Home, Country Roads'; eventually some of the music-driven sequences match the cheesiness of the corporate rap videos that Gibney uses for mortifying comic relief, which includes the rapping opiate. But seriously: while the documentary has so much to share, it doesn't have the poignancy or poetry that helps such informed calls for attention to truly resonate. (Gibney’s recent HBO doc Agent of Chaos nailed this when it came to retracing Russian interference in American elections.) Instead it becomes a fairly cold affair, even though its tale embodies very human flaws: some people will do anything for more power and money, countless more will do anything to feel better, especially within the cycle of addiction."
Why Alex Gibney decided to title this documentary The Crime of the Century: "It just seemed that big," he says. "I mean, 500,000 people dead. And when I say the 'century,' I mean the 21st century, so I didn’t have to deal with a number of other crimes previous. And also this is very much a crime of this century. In other words, Purdue launches OxyContin in the late ’90s but most of the damage done from opioids is in the 2000s, so it seemed appropriate — both the enormity of it and the timing."