in ,

Pain Hustlers


‘…by framing an upbeat, feel-good story against a real human catastrophe, Yates blunts his own message, and it’s fair to complain that the well-meaning but overtly fabricated Pain Hustlers somehow ends up letting the bad guys off the hook once again…’

It would be hard to argue that the US isn’t fighting a uniquely intense battle with opioids right now; with pain relief drugs offering big business, existing rules and regulations seem to have allowed a widespread sport of running a coach and horses through them in the name of capitalism. From a New York Times article by Evan Hughes, Pain Hustlers tells the familiar rags to riches to excess to prison story that was enshrined in Wolf of Wall Street, but has always been a tv movie staple going back to such tales of medical malfeasance as 1997’s Breast Men.

A far larger fish to fry, Pain Hustlers was snapped up by Netflix for a reported $50 million, and has a number of angles to attract a mainstream audience; the director is David Yates, usually occupied in the Harry Potter sludge-mill, and the movie stars icons Mary Poppins and Captain America in the form of hip stars Emily Blunt and Chris Evans. Blunt plays Liza Drake, a single mom and unsuccessful stripper who needs a job; Evans plays Pete Brenner, who works under eccentric boss Jack Neel (Andy Garcia) for a dodgy pharmaceutical company on the brink of shutting up shop. Drake needs a sale and fast, not least because her daughter requires a brain operation urgently, and so she bends the rules to entice a put-upon doctor to prescribe their own brand painkiller. When the money starts pouring in, Brenner’s influence means that standards drop further, and soon this addictive product is being prescribed for all kinds of ailments it wasn’t intended for, with deadly consequences…

With the actors strike meaning that there are no tie-in interviews to tame the inherent bias of legacy media, Pain Hustlers has been a terribly reviewed film for Netflix, but it’s actually not that bad. Blunt certainly conveys agency, even if the contrived motivations used to justify her tough-mom’s-love efforts push her too hard. Evans is also better than his usual lunky schtick as Brennan, a sleazy, immoral salesman who isn’t interested in anything but his own bottom line. And Catherine O’Hara has a fun set of comic cameos as Drake’s mother, but the importance of her role only becomes apparent in the audience-pleasing plot twists of the film’s final scenes.

Underneath the usual faux Netflix sheen, Pain Hustlers does have a relevant message for our times; the rich find ways to pitch the poor against each other for sport, and the easily degraded lives of anyone neither rich nor famous are increasingly at risk. As the tagline suggests, this is a story of American Excess, but by framing an upbeat, feel-good story against a real human catastrophe, Yates blunts his own message, and it’s fair to complain that the well-meaning but overtly fabricated Pain Hustlers somehow ends up letting the bad guys off the hook once again.



Leave a Reply
  1. I imagine the real story here is just too grim to play straight. Wasn’t there another movie they made out of the Sacklers and their story? I think Steve Carell was in it.

    • Beautiful Boy? Was a bit more personal than this. But there must be a way to discuss opiod greed without having the sympathetic protagonists only get into the murky business to pay for a brain operation for their daughter….

                    • Leonard Cohen was a great guest star. Shane they never made The Muppets Take Berlin.

                    • They did. It’s all over the Internet. Haven’t you seen the clips of Bruno Ganz raging about how Kermit has broken through the last line of defence and Fozzie has thrown down his rifle and is running away? Classic scene.

                    • So Fassbinder did follow up The Bitter Tears of Miss Piggy, and outdid Fear Eats Fozzie’s Soul? I’ll seek this out on your recommend, thanks.

                    • Felt it vilified the Great Gonzo. That ground had already been covered in Lina Wertmuller when she cast Rowlf in The End of the World with a Frog in our Usual Bed on a Night Full of Rain (1978)

                    • Not one of Lina’s better offerings. But anything was an improvement over that one where Dora the Explorer got swept away to an island she had to share with Steve Carell. Dora’s one adult venture, as I recall.

                    • I saw Walerian Borowczyk’s freewheeling take on that, Dora the Explorer visits Goto Island of Love, which I feel was the dfinitive work on the subject. Steve Carell’s contribution to that film was a groundbreaker for me, and including an origin story for the Sweedish chef was a nice poke in the eye for Bergmann.

                    • You know, speaking of the Swedish Chef it’s a shame Booky never made it to the end of Solaris for that scene where Matthew Broderick looks in the window and the Chef is inside making meatballs. One of Tarkovsky’s most poetic moments.

                    • That scene was not in the US version because Tarkovsky didn’t have the rights to the Minor characters. He wrote about his frustration in his book Sculpting in Time (with Sweetums).

Leave a Reply