'Emily Blunt Chris Evans fentanyl Pain Hustlers'
Netflix's new film, "Pain Hustlers," sheds light on the roots of the fentanyl crisis in the US pharmaceutical world.
Fentanyl, a highly dangerous drug, has become a scourge in the United States, responsible for over half of the overdose deaths in the country. In 2020 alone, there were almost 43,000 deaths attributed to fentanyl. While the drug is now commonly found laced in street drugs like heroin, the origins of this crisis can be traced back to the pharmaceutical industry. The new Netflix film, Pain Hustlers, delves into this issue, set in 2011 and based on a true story.
The film revolves around a fictional company called Zanna Therapeutics, owned by Dr. Jack Neel, played by Andy Garcia. The company is on the brink of bankruptcy until Pete Brenner, one of its top sales reps portrayed by Chris Evans, decides to hire Liza Drake, a struggling single mom who recently worked at a strip club, played by Emily Blunt.
Liza's charisma and Pete's willingness to bend the rules lead them to convince doctors, like Dr. Lydell portrayed by Brian d'Arcy James, to prescribe Zanna's fentanyl-based drug, Lonafen, to their cancer patients. This is the only group approved by the FDA to receive the medication. However, driven by greed, the employees at Zanna begin crossing ethical and legal boundaries, persuading doctors to prescribe the drug "off-label" to non-cancer patients.
Directed by David Yates and written by Wells Tower based on Evan Hughes' book, Pain Hustlers follows the familiar narrative structure of many boom-and-bust companies. First, the failing company experiences unexpected success. Then, the individuals involved become consumed by this success, resorting to any means necessary to maintain it. Finally, their actions lead to significant legal or financial troubles, ultimately resulting in their downfall.
While the overall story may not be particularly surprising, the film's focus on personal details adds intrigue. Liza serves as the primary perspective, convincing herself that she is working for Zanna for noble reasons – to alleviate people's pain and secure a better life for herself and her daughter, Phoebe, portrayed by Chloe Coleman. However, as success comes rapidly, Liza finds herself compromising her values and losing her ability to make that claim.
Yates employs a gimmick in Pain Hustlers, with characters breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the camera in faux interviews, emulating a documentary style. Unfortunately, the placement of these sequences feels arbitrary, and the information gained from them does not significantly contribute to the overall story. Instead, the film could have benefited from delving deeper into the lives of those affected by the wrongdoing, rather than focusing on those perpetrating it.
While the narrative may falter at times, the performances in Pain Hustlers elevate the film. Blunt delivers a compelling performance as the empathetic lead, even when her character's actions are questionable. Evans, who has faced challenges since departing from the Marvel world, has moments of brilliance in this film. Additionally, Catherine O'Hara makes a notable appearance as Liza's mother, showcasing her talent.
Pain Hustlers could have delved further into the depths of its subject matter and offered more originality. However, it still deserves recognition for shedding light on a problem that has only worsened since the depicted time period. This film highlights that addiction stems from various sources, but the actions of pharmaceutical companies and doctors have undoubtedly exacerbated the issue.