With its initially alarmist approach to the subject matter, the domestic crime drama Inherit The Viper seems like it’s going to be a maudlin dissection of the opioid crisis, the sort of low-on-pulp genre effort that feels more like vegetables than dessert. But instead, it’s a rather startling tragedy about generational trauma and the curse of family ties.

Filmed primarily in Alabama, director Anthony Jerjen’s feature debut follows the Conley family, a close-knit clan responsible for selling the majority of oxycontin in their town. Kip (Josh Hartnett) is the reluctant leader with sister Josie (Margarita Levieva) the one who actually respects the family business. Their little brother Boots (Owen Teague) is too big for his britches, too young to remember their tumultuous upbringing so he celebrates their deceased father’s legacy.

Kip, a veteran, is a man who despises all the parts of himself everyone around him wants to paint as heroic. He has his own kind of honor system and tries to offset the damage he does to his community by cutting breaks to addicts who need a fix to maintain their lives and deal with physical pain but can’t afford to. This changes nothing for the other people in town for whom the Conley name is synonymous with death. Kip and Josie beef over how involved Boots is allowed to be and his outsider status sets him on a ruinous path, trying to cut deals for himself and make moves that ultimately set the film’s conflicts in motion.

At first, the film feels like it’s going to have a lot of hand wringing over the plight of opioids, particularly in white communities, which is somewhat grating given how most “urban” set crime films skip this kind of proselytizing entirely. But Jerjen is less concerned with the drugs themselves than what this pathetic little empire the Conleys cling to represents. Their father failed them in every metric that matters, but he established an unscrupulous enterprise that allows them to eat and survive in a town where no one does either without great detriment to themselves.

But the Conleys struggle with their souls, with the cost of what they do, and with one another. The plot machinations are definitely Godfather-lite family dynamics and overall, Viper has a lot less to offer than the similar but superior Little Woods that Neon released last year. It does, however, play into its genre just enough to mix its tragic tone with noirish intrigue and some pretty solid suspense.

It’s also a great opportunity to remind audiences that Josh Hartnett is still around and still an undersung commodity here. There’s a great deal of overlap between his leading performance here and Channing Tatum’s turn in Logan Lucky, but Hartnett, by virtue of hiding from the spotlight and the heartthrob path once set before him, imbues Kip Conley with a wounded sense of turmoil that proves compelling enough to carry even the flimsier parts of this picture.

A competent debut for a new filmmaker and a reminder how good a clearly forgotten actor still is? That’s not so bad for a movie with this crummy a title.

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