Sunday 12 November 2023

Movie Review: Pain Hustlers (2023)

Genre: Business Drama
Director: David Yates
Starring: Emily Blunt, Chris Evans, Andy Garcia, Catherine O'Hara, Jay Duplass
Running Time: 123 minutes

Synopsis: In Florida of 2011, single mom Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) is financially struggling to look after herself and her daughter Phoebe. She accepts an offer from executive Pete Brenner (Chris Evans) to join fledgling pharmaceutical firm Zanna. The company's one approved product is Lonafen, a fentanyl-based cancer pain medication developed by owner Dr. Neel (Andy Garcia). Liza's hustle snares the prescription business of Dr. Lydell (Brian D'Arcy James), and soon the big money starts rolling in. Neel's behaviour becomes more eccentric, while Liza and Pete push the limits in incentivizing doctors to prescribe the medication.

What Works Well: Inspired by actual events at Insys Therapeutics chronicled in Evan Hughes' book, this is a glossy inside look at the scuzzy profits-before-people pharmaceutical industry. Adopting some of the jovial tones from The Wolf Of Wall Street, director David Yates crafts a compelling and fast-paced rags-to-riches business story built on the hustle to sell product - in this case a synthetic opioid approved for sale based on dubious studies. Emily Blunt is excellent in personifying the greed version of the American Dream, as Liza builds a team of dropouts - including her mother (Catherine O'Hara) - snaring third-tier doctors happy to take a cut in the form of "appearance fees".

What Does Not Work As Well: It's all fun and games until someone dies, and here the victims are a sketched-in afterthought. Blunt is asked to carry the entire dramatic load, as Dr. Neel quickly devolves into a cartoon character and Chris Evans is unable to find a real person in the lightweight Pete Brenner. The portrayal of Liza's relationship with her mother is scrappy at best.

Conclusion: Sickness and suffering as an opportunity for slick success.

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