Pain Hustlers Review

Pain Hustlers
Pain Hustlers
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This movie is directed by David Yates, who since 2007, has only made one other non-Harry Potter film. Pain Hustlers dramatizes a real pharmaceutical crisis in some strange and unintelligible ways. Even what this whole thing is all about and why it’s even called that way is cloaked in layers that are confusing: Evan Hughes’ 2022 nonfiction book The Hard Sell, which was the source for this film, is being marketed as such itself, based on Hughes’ initial New York Times Magazine investigation into an opioid manufacturer Insys Therapeutics bribery scheme carried out. This roundabout approach extends to Pain Hustlers’ tale of capitalist greed.

Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) gradually appears via other characters’ documentary testimonies as a mysterious and cold-hearted ladder-climber who is literally desired dead by her accomplice to corporate crimes Pete Brenner (a commendably uncouth Chris Evans). It’s an interesting delightful introduction that arouses curiosity; however, the rest part of the movie doesn’t match up with its great start. While she will never be seen dancing in it Drake as she works away from home and meets Brenner at work for a chat becomes attractive to him making Brenner give her something like a job at the right moment possible for both. With Phoebe – Chloe Coleman – a wild child with health problems and a failed marriage behind her shoulders Drake can only stay at her sister’s garage until she lies on her resume with help from Brenner in order to get this sales position somehow. And he happens to be an individual whose failing pharmaceutical company needs not determination alone but also strong emotional appeals from somebody like Drake.

If it sounds convenient then yes it is supposed to sound like that. More importantly than their nonexistence though is why they were invented in the first place. Pain Hustlers reeks of hacky “Save the Cat” Hollywood-isms which care more about the fact that Drake is a likable and redeemable character than actually discussing any of the real causes of the opioid epidemic in America, or showing us its darker side. Pain Hustlers tries to copy Goodfellas’ and The Wolf of Wall Street’s structure as movies that highlight the charm of money and power, but it rarely ever reaches that level of Intoxication like Martin Scorsese films for example; instead, it seems to meander on why Drake would be attracted to the seedy world of pharmaceutical sales at all or how luxury could seduce her in the way this film tacitly indicates without illustrating. She’s also shown as an altruistic force whose main goal is to help people ease their pain.

Pain Hustlers does not take sides with either the clash or continuous problem. This is because, in different scenes, these two sides reflect divergent characters traits Drake has. It’s like she is a non-entity but rather a vehicle for ideas that are not well explained by the film. The music composed by James Newton and Howard Michael Dean Parsons evokes 2000s hip-hop fusing rock and metal moments that keeps pounding and driving you forward while failing to match the images on screen with its energy and momentum, yet the story comes full circle without ever getting hedonistic. The performances, especially those of Blunt and Coleman, carry an intimate warmth that’s never really contrasted with the pharma-corporate world (which is more lukewarm than initially inviting or eventually cold and unforgiving, as the story suggests). The thread of Drakes’ mother-daughter relationship runs parallel to that main plot but fails to intersect at any point.

Dr.Jack Neel (Andy Garcia) drives this story of medical corruption. He’s like Zanna’s captain of a sinking ship; albeit Garcia provides an icy bully performance revealed in his character’s make up that is similar to Drake –writing conflictedly rather than depicting conflict of character. That his noble motives are only present alongside his avarice belies traditional notions about how human beings deal with greediness – as if it were altogether possible to separate one trait from another Pain Hustlers doesn’t deem necessary for now. There isn’t much shading among characters here; they all toggle between black and white depending on what will facilitate a predetermined framework where Blunt operates as though some good angel whose compass points only north or south.

There’s always this image at the back of the reader’s mind that Drake could be anyone but instead, she feels slightly more like certain stock figures who embody different aspects of the American dream in different ways rather than like several real people rolled into one including an exotic dancer that the Insys Company hired as a sales associate who was named Sunrise Lee in real life. She does things that are absolutely wrong but through the lens of the camera Blunt is presented as incorruptible, hesitating with a frown of regret at everything her character says and does. But not once does Drake ever think twice about doing this; this is not so much a plot hole as it is a gaffe in crafting drama for a movie. Yates captures these split second dilemmas which turn out to be empty – no sense of danger, stakes or possibilities. The drama is vacuous.

This story that should have been fraught with dilemmas almost never is. However often Blunt’s finely honed dramatic depiction of maternal desperation may perfectly encapsulate such emotions, it often becomes hard not to contextualize such moments in terms of her more flawed side marked by material temptation type characters all women can relate to like Liza Drake and others. Both are intriguing sorts of people but they never meet or share space despite both being Liza Drake.


Pain Hustlers is a fictionalization of actual investigation into opioid crisis in America which is an immensely conflicted but slow-paced film. These characters seem to be the result of too many rewrites, as if Director David Yates had shot two conflicting drafts and combined them. Consequently, it is never quite appealing or dramatically gripping enough to have any lasting impact.

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