PAIN HUSTLERS (NETFLIX) (2023)
SYNOPSIS: Dreaming of a better life for her and her young daughter, Liza (Emily Blunt) lands a job from Pete (Chris Evans) at a failing pharma start-up, where Liza’s charm, drive, and guts catapult her into the high life and the company into the center of a criminal conspiracy with dire consequences.
Statistics have shown that one in five people in America is struggling with opioid addiction, drug deaths have also doubled and around 200 Americans are killed daily because of it. The crisis has been well depicted in the acclaimed Apple TV series, Dopesick and also the recent Netflix series, Painkiller. David Yates taking a break from the magical world helmed this drama with the same subject matter but without the gusto and competency.
Emily Blunt produced and stars as Liza Drake in this pharma-drama based on a 2018 New York Times article by Evan Hughes. While it’s based on a real case, all names and locations have been changed in the movie adaptation. Drake is a single mother working as a stripper in a night club. She lives in her sister’s garage and she is in need of money for her daughter’s brain surgery and practically everything.
When she met Pete Brenner (Chris Evans), a pharma salesman for Lonafen, a pain relief medication for cancer patients, Liza took up Pete’s offer to join his company to sell the drug to doctors. Armed with a PhD (in this case poor, hungry and dumb) and obviously, Liza is not dumb at all as she swiftly becomes the top saleswoman in the company owned by founder, Jack Neel (Andy Garcia). Paying doctors to speak to their peers and offering substantial bribes to them, Liza soon realizes the dangerous consequences surrounding the drug which can be addictive to non-cancer patients, Liza wants out and the only way is to get her hands on some concrete proof of the sleazy business antics of the company.
Primarily, the biggest problem lies with the direction of the story. Liza Drake is painted as a street smart and eloquent speaker who can convinced anyone within minutes. She is this decade’s Erin Brockovich per se so if you take away the story of opioid addiction and switches it to something else, the character of Drake still works in that particular premise. This is not to say Blunt did a horrid job in fact she is still as likeable and definitely watchable in the role.
Chris Evans on the other hand continues his journey of being a douchebag after The Gray Man and Knives Out though he didn’t exactly gets a lot of screentime to flash out his character because most of the attention is focused on Emily Blunt’s character. Old timers Andy Garcia and Catherine O’Hara shines in their respective roles as the eccentric billionaire and Liza’s slutty mother who has a fling with the former.
Again, the fault points back to Yates and screenwriter Wells Tower who has no idea how to make this movie works. Is it a dark comedy on a drug crisis? A mockumentary or a serious drama where you constantly have people talking into the camera about the deaths of their loved ones? To be fair, Pain Hustlers is a decent and entertaining watch. But for sure, it’s not a thinking man’s movie on the current drug crisis and the awful American healthcare system. It’s simply a negligible supplement pill to a more critical health issue.
Review by Linus Tee