If you had high hopes for Pain Hustlers before watching it, prepare to have your expectations tank. Despite its efforts of being a hard-hitting movie, the movie seems to have no peaks or elements that shine through. The story is an important one though – American medicine needs to be called out big time. Just for this singular notion, Pain Hustlers can deserve a watch or two.
The movie is a take on the monopoly of American pharma, specifically based on the scam perpetrated by Insys founder John Kapoor. Life-saving medicines enter the drug network, and perpetuates the lives that drug addicts live. Emily Blunt stars as Liza Drake – a single mother with many failed attempts at employment, resorting to strip clubs. There, she meets Pete Brenner – Chris Evans with a Boston accent – who offers an opportunity that changes both their lives. The process of their transformation harms scores of American lives in the process, but this message isn’t as concretely delivered by David Yates.
Pain Hustlers seems like a quickly welded structure of events, with nothing interesting to look at. The teaser of the movie ‘warns’ viewers that the film is supposed to give you a high, but the film is anything but that. The idea is not novel, nor is the theme – having nothing, scheming hard to get everything, and then dealing with the consequences. You can predict the story as it moves forward. After her meeting with Brenner, Drake gets kicked out of her sister’s garage. Posed with another uncertainty, who do you think she goes to next? There’s no room for suspense, or points in the story that genuinely have the audience in shock.
Yates has tried his best in informing the audience about the fallacies of pharmaceuticals in America, but the film focuses too much on Liza’s conscience than the cause at hand. The company is like any evil company that is ever portrayed in Hollywood, that hits overnight success. It parties its life away and is left frazzled when it lands in trouble. There’s an uneven mix of the rise of a crooked company, and the moral dilemma of the protagonist. It had to be either of the two to make Pain Hustlers a watchable movie. Although Yates has mentioned that the movie is nowhere an exact narration of the Insys scandal, it is truly unclear what exact message the film gives. And if it’s repentance after wronging a whole lot of people, then it’s something that we’ve seen already.
There were also elements that seemed mistreated. Liza’s mother, Jackie (played by Catherine O’Hara) could have been characterized in a much better way. Even though she does play a pivotal role towards the end of the film, it doesn’t distinguish her rank as a character in the film. Jackie is instead portrayed as the classic lost-cause mother, who later tries to mend her relationship with her abandoned child.
Emily Blunt outshines Chris Evans in the movie, and is the film’s saving grace. She embodies an ambitious but empathetic Liza; whose heart shifts once her career reaches its peak. Chris Evans fails to impress as Pete; you could ignore his performance and still get a good gist of the film. This is a character that you can expect to forget soon enough. Their chemistry seems shaky and restricted, for a pair that achieves life-altering success after nearly giving up. Yates has positioned Pete in a way where he has to constantly remind the viewers of his presence in the film. Evans’s character is actually based on Alec Burlakoff, who was central to the Insys scandal. Yet, he fails to make a mark by a huge shot.
Pain Hustlers essentially fails to deliver everything that it thought it would. There’s no drama, no suspense, or anything attractive about this film. The story seems like a flat line, instead of the proper arc structure that makes films so intriguing. But it does an okay job of giving viewers an insight of the dark world of American medicine. It isn’t a deep dive into the crisis, but rather how it affects the morality of those involved in it. Despite attempting to swing big, Pain Hustlers fails to hit home.