The opioid crisis has taken center stage in recent media, with numerous documentaries, series, and movies exploring the devastating effects of addiction. One such film is “Pain Hustlers,” directed by David Yates. While the film attempts to portray the dark underbelly of the pharmaceutical industry, it falls short of delivering the gripping gangster narrative it promises.
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A Different Take on the Opioid Crisis
“Pain Hustlers” draws inspiration from Evan Hughes’s book, “Pain Hustlers: Crime and Punishment at an Opioid Startup,” to tell the story of Insys Therapeutics, a real-life company involved in the production of a highly addictive form of fentanyl. However, the screenplay takes liberties with the original story, creating composite characters and altering names to craft a more engaging narrative.
Despite its gangster film ambitions, “Pain Hustlers” lacks the bravado and depth of true classics like Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.” Instead, it begins with a series of documentary-style interviews that shame the characters before their story even unfolds. This apology-like approach undermines the film’s potential, preventing audiences from fully empathizing with the characters.
The Victim Narrative
The film follows the protagonist, Liza Drake, a single mother willing to go to great lengths to provide for her daughter. Unfortunately, the script portrays Liza as a victim rather than a scrappy survivor caught up in a world of greed and hubris. This narrative choice feels sexist and restricts the audience’s ability to appreciate the allure of money and power, even if it comes at a high cost.
While the cast delivers solid performances, particularly Emily Blunt as Liza and Chris Evans as the sleazy salesman Pete Brenner, the film fails to capitalize on their potential. Instead of exploring the complexity of their characters, “Pain Hustlers” opts for a safe and predictable path, leaving audiences underwhelmed.
The Final Verdict
“Pain Hustlers” may provide some enlightenment for those unfamiliar with the opioid crisis, shedding light on the shady practices behind overprescribing addictive drugs. However, as a cinematic experience, it falls short of greatness. Director David Yates moves the story along at a brisk pace, reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” but without the same impact. Ultimately, “Pain Hustlers” fails to deliver the gripping and thought-provoking narrative it aspires to be.
“Pain Hustlers” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, opened in select theaters on October 20, and is now available for streaming on Netflix.