‘Pain Hustlers’ Falls Short in Portraying the Opioid Crisis


Summary: The new film ‘Pain Hustlers’ on Netflix takes a tasteless approach to the opioid crisis, turning it into a flashy cartoon that celebrates greed instead of examining the devastating impact. The film fails to delve into the complexities and real-life stakes of addiction, opting instead for gimmicky visuals and melodrama.

A Different Approach to the Opioid Crisis

While many TV shows and films have tackled the opioid crisis with sensitivity, ‘Pain Hustlers’ takes a different tack. Directed by David Yates, best known for his work on the ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Fantastic Beasts’ series, the film uses the epidemic as a backdrop for a rags-to-riches story. However, this approach is tasteless and fails to portray the true tragedy of the prescription-drug crisis.

Fictionalizing Insys Therapeutics

Based on Evan Hughes’s book, the movie fictionalizes the story of Insys Therapeutics, a company involved in shady tactics to flood the market with fentanyl. The characters and events are renamed or invented, with the protagonist, Liza, played by Emily Blunt, being a single mom and former stripper who turns the company around through a racketeering scheme. However, the film does not delve into the details of the scheme, focusing instead on flashy visuals and excessive parties.

Glorifying Greed

Rather than examining the exploitation of the American health-care system and the devastating consequences of addiction, ‘Pain Hustlers’ emphasizes the excess and greed of the fictional company, Zanna. The film uses tricks from ‘The Big Short’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ to showcase the company’s rise, but the effect is overwhelming and the film comes off as a goofy celebration of greed.

Shallow Characterization

The film fails to develop its characters beyond caricatures. Aside from Liza, who becomes troubled by the company’s actions, the other characters in the film lack depth. Pete, a salesman, is portrayed as profane, Dr. Lydell is a physician known for accepting bribes, and Dr. Jack Neel is a one-note villain. The film misses an opportunity to explore the complexities of the employees’ moral dilemmas.

Lack of Emotional Impact

The film only briefly touches on the impact of addiction and the victims of the company’s actions. The death of a friend due to overdose feels like an afterthought, as the character rarely appears in the film and other subplots take up most of the screen time. The attempts to inject emotional depth through black-and-white ‘interviews’ with the characters fall flat, serving as distractions rather than enhancing the narrative.

A Missed Opportunity

Ultimately, ‘Pain Hustlers’ fails to explore the larger societal issues and complex motivations behind the opioid crisis. Instead of delving into uncomfortable truths, the film opts for flashy visuals and melodrama, diverting the viewer’s attention. It falls short in portraying the devastating impact of the crisis and ends up as a shallow scammer story rather than a thoughtful examination of addiction and its consequences.

Tags: Pain Hustlers, opiod crisis, Netflix, addiction, greed, fictionalization, exploitation, characterization, emotional impact, missed opportunity