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January 21, 2024

Emily Blunt and Chris Evans elevate Pain Hustlers from being a pathetically executed film about the dangerous side of pharmaceutical companies, to a film worth watching.

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Pain Hustlers ☆☆ 1/2

Starring: Emily Blunt, Chris Evans, Andy Garcia, Catherine O' Hara

Direction: David Yates

“I asked the kings of medicine/But it seems they’ve lost their powers/Now all I’m left with is the hours” – ‘Kings of Medicine’ by Placebo

What do you get when you have a failing pharmaceutical company’s smooth-talking bigwig and a woman, who is not willing to give up on her dreams, come together in a financial team-up?

You get Pain Hustlers, a film that unearths, once more, just how hazardous the world of pharmaceutical companies can be and what new drug they’re selling.

Inspired by true events, the premise of the film has merit. But even the best of films are ruined by an excruciatingly long length. Like The Irishman, this film should’ve shaved off at least 30 minutes from its original duration of two hours and 3 minutes.

But let’s move past that.

The story is about many things. From the outside, it is the story of one Liza Drake (Emily Blunt), who dreams of a better life for herself and her offspring. Her financial prospects might be bleak, but she does know how to read people and make them feel like they’re the only one in the room.

It is this one superpower that allows her to meet Pete Brenner (Chris Evans) at a strip joint. For a bet of ten dollars and mere minutes, she is able to read just what he does: a pharma guy. He offers her a job on the spot. She doesn’t make much of it. But when circumstances appear hopeless, she calls him and asks him to take a chance on her. And, well, he does.

Now let’s cut back to the beginning.

Yep, this is not how the film begins. As a throwback to or an inspiration from the wildly original filmmaker, Wes Anderson, director David Yates has the actors, back and forth and solo, talking to the camera, telling their versions of how what they did was not really wrong. Wow! Call it a true meeting of the minds. The whole epilogue, upon viewing the full film, though, appears unnecessary.

What is Pain Hustlers about, then?

Liza Drake is a mother of a teenager with an ex who sees her as one step shy of being an unfit mother. Her daughter, a teenager, doesn’t see her mother as one, though. With no desire to work in a strip joint, and after moving out of her sister’s house where she had been crashing in the garage for two months, Liza Drake calls Pete Brenner for a job and gets it.

What she doesn’t know is that the bigwig from Zanna is trying to put a pain-relief medicine on the market which is fentanyl-based.

A shameless hustler, he doesn’t take responsibility and notes how his drug is not a “street drug” or like the “opioid crisis” that was responsible for killing Americans. It’s like one of them knows the whole truth and the other is winging it but doesn’t know the whole truth about its biochemistry. She only discovers the whole truth after entering this world.

Blunt’s narration at the start of the film about how she did things she shouldn’t have… for the right reasons, makes you realize she had no idea what she was trying to sell. As a sales rep, she gets a doctor to write prescriptions for the drug, a feat uncommon to the company that is failing to find investors.

But enter Liza Drake, who pushes the drug into the market by reading doctors, as well as patients so cleverly, that even Brenner is impressed.

Where he had originally offered her 100k per year, he turns that figure to 600k. She gets the right doctor to write a script pay him as well. It bugs her. The soulless Brenner says everybody does it.

This is a man with an attitude, not of contrition, but one who refuses to take responsibility and thinks people just lose perspective when they hear ‘fentanyl’. What is obvious is that in the pharma world and those outside of it, many – if not most – know that fentanyl is more dangerous than a razor blade. It is undetectable and untraceable if you look into the science behind it (like I did).

So, what did they do that was so bad that now they have to explain themselves. That comes later.

They sold the drug and the high life follows, which then is followed by criminal investigation and puts the FBI on their tail.

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Sounds like a brilliant film? Except, there is one issue. The film is not put together in the way it should’ve been. It needed better editing. It underused actors as terrific as Catherine O’ Hara and Andy Garcia.

In no way did it need to follow the route best associated with Wes Anderson, well, not unless you’re Christopher Nolan, because he can do anything and everything.

Pain Hustlers is still worth watching because all of the major players.

Imagine Captain America (Chris Evans) showcasing an acting style we never believed he could pull off… but he does. So, you have to give props to him for shedding the skin of his most well-known character.

Emily Blunt, like a chameleon, is equally brilliant and shines as a true star, and together they take a film about an important subject and convert it into something worth your while.

It needs to be added that perhaps director David Yates and streaming giant Netflix forgot that if you, the viewer, take an audit of films that have the pharma angle to them, either in an opaque style or blunt fashion, multiple films as well as documentaries exist.

The criminal investigation that follows and the consequences felt by each character is not something to be revealed.

The fall from grace must be witnessed. And it does clear up one fact: Fentanyl is dangerous, it has far-reaching consequences in the worst way possible and more people should know this name even if it’s through a film that is a farce, a comedy and sadly, driven by true events.

Rating system: *Not on your life * ½ If you really must waste your time ** Hardly worth the bother ** ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only *** Good enough for a look see *** ½ Recommended viewing **** Don’t miss it **** ½ Almost perfect ***** Perfection

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