Pain Hustlers (2023)

Pain Hustlers (2023)

A weak treatment of the painfully real events that killed many and made a few very rich, this time with fentanyl



United Kingdom, United States of America
Crime, Drama
Adrian Eppley, Alex Klein, Amit Shah
122 min


Some articles should remain articles: rewatch All the Beauty and the Bloodshed instead.

What it's about

A fictional retelling of a very real pharma fentanyl scandal that was uncovered in 2018, starring Emily Blunt, Chris Evans, and Andy García.

The take

Pain Hustlers is based on a 2018 New York Times article of the same name exposing a drug company that marketed a fentanyl-based drug. Zanna, the on-screen pharmaceutical start-up, is modelled after Insys: the actual company who pushed a fentanyl-based spray for pain management with the help of sales reps who particularly appeal to a certain male gaze. A DIY scheme of bribing doctors through "speaker programs"—or recurring, debaucherous parties—gets Zanna off the ground, catapulting stripper-turned-manager Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) to a much-yearned financial stability. Together with the coked-up COO (magnificently played by Chris Evans), Liza puts her street smart potential to work; she goes all in, until it all crashes and burns. It's cynical how predictable the plot of such a film can be, mainly because the only character development we see is in Liza's sudden moral spark at the sight of drug abuses and overdoses. Pain Hustlers tries really hard to build a hero, tear her down, and then rehabilitate her status, but to what end? The film ends up using the fentanyl crisis as a narrative drive, a highly dubious move when you're supposed to be spreading awareness. 


What stands out

It was director David Yates' idea to have Liza as a central character, since she is entirely fictional. To make it more believable, the screenwriters made her a divorced mother to an unruly (but sweet) teenage girl and a daughter to an equally unruly, but sweet mother. These three generations of women make up the emotional core of the film and all play their roles in the ethical implications explored by Pain Hustlers. Liza is, of course, the ringleader; her daughter Phoebe is diagnosed with a brain malformation that necessitates expensive surgery. Jackie, Phoebe's grandmother, joins the company as a sales rep and gets cozy with the big boss. United, the three women have the power to secure the sentencing of a top pharma exec in what seems like a legendary win and it is satisfying to see justice prevail thanks to them. Even if it's just a movie.



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