The reps doing the dirty work pushing pills get their close-up

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Pain Hustlers
Netflix, Oct.  27
2.5 out of 5

The treatment of the opioid epidemic in movies is acquiring new shades. First, it was all about the addicts. The Sacklers took center stage next. The decency-challenged clan, responsible for making OxyContin a household name, got justifiably denounced in the docs All the Beauty and the Bloodshed and Crime of the Century and skewered by proxy in The Fall of the House of Usher (so satisfying).

Pain Hustlers tackles the middleman, mid-size pharmaceutical companies that hire desperate people with the gift of the gab to sway doctors into prescribing their products. To expedite the process, these drug companies are happy to send the sales team on ‘speaking’ tours to meet with doctors, all expenses paid. It’s a legal loophole that enables a vile form of racketeering.

The film follows the rise and plateau of one Liza Drake (Emily Blunt), recruited from a strip club by sleazy sales rep Pete Brenner (Chris Evans, very good at being oily). Easy on the eyes and the right amount of pushy, Liza goes from living in her sister’s garage to earning six-figure commissions. But she soon becomes aware the company she’s repping is peddling an addictive opioid under false pretences and has a change of heart. Not that she gives the money back or anything.

While the top half of Pain Hustlers is illuminating, the story falters by trying to make the lead character sympathetic. Sure, Liza Drake is greedy and manipulative. But she does it all for her daughter Phoebe, you see. Phoebe has mysterious seizures and needs an expensive operation. It’s all very Scriptwriting 101. Another quibble: Emily Blunt can believably play imperious (The Devil Wears Prada) and earthy (A Quiet Place). But she’s the least believable stripper this side of Kristen Stewart.

Best known for helming the last four chapters of the Harry Potter saga and those terrible Fantastic Beasts movies, director Peter Yates delivers a passably entertaining movie, but he had the material to make a better film. ■