Pain addicts — David Yates’ entertaining crime drama about the shady sales practices of pharmaceutical companies — begins with a character distinguishing his company’s misdeeds from a well-known pharmaceutical giant: “We are not Purdue Pharma. We didn’t kill America.” Sure, the employees of Zanna Therapeutics, a fictional pharmaceutical company, didn’t sell their opioid painkillers at the same rate as Purdue, but that doesn’t make them any less guilty.
A flood of books, films and television shows have already exposed the greedy underpinnings of the American pharmaceutical industry. The book by Patrick Radden Keefe Realm of pain and the documentary by Laura Poitras All the beauty and bloodshed looked at the Sacklers and chronicled the impact of the philanthropic family’s decision-making. The miniseries Stupid, based on the book of the same name by Beth Macy, dramatized the manipulation of the Purdue clan. And Alex Gibney’s two-part documentary The crime of the century presented a damning account of both families’ contributions to the opioid epidemic and addressed the commercialization of fentanyl by lnsys Therapeutics.
Strengthened by committed performance.
Adaptation of Evan Hughes’ The Hard Sell: Crime and Punishment at an Opioid Startup, Yates crafts a fast-paced, fast-talking film that puts Insys (the loose inspiration for Zanna) back in the spotlight. The startup’s employees, including eccentric billionaire founder John Kapoor, were charged with conspiracy to commit extortion in 2019. The case was crucial to the federal government’s attempt to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their contribution to overdose deaths. But at its peak, Insys was also a fascinating study of how a non-entity could become a major player through the use of institutionalized practices. It turned out that the system was designed to reward pharmaceutical companies and doctors at the expense of patients.
A cold opening occurs Pain Hustlers‘s frame. Zanna’s convicted employees are interviewed by an unseen director for a documentary about the company. Excerpts from these conversations – filmed in black and white – appear throughout Pain addicts, which she uses to contextualize actions in the main narrative. When asked how the startup, which was initially on the verge of failure, became a pharmaceutical giant within a few months, the respondents mentioned one name: Liza Drake.
Emily Blunt plays the single mother who quickly climbed the corporate ladder after convincing a key pain therapist (Brian d’Arcy James) to prescribe Zanna’s painkillers to a rival pharmaceutical company. But before she helped Zanna make millions of dollars, Liza struggled to earn a livable wage. We meet this determined character, a woman with deceptively doe-eyed eyes and a slight Southern touch, as she argues on the phone with her ex-husband about their daughter Phoebe (Chloe Coleman). Before she can get completely angry, Liza hangs up and struts with cool determination into a Florida strip club where she works as a dancer.
It’s unclear how long Liza has been employed at the club, but the job isn’t a good fit. There’s a riveting sequence in which Yates and editor Mark Day move – with increasing speed – between images of an overwhelmed Liza awkwardly handling the barre and another dancer twisting her body around the metal barre with grace and precision. and switch here. Pain addicts is full of captivating impressions like this, in which narrative, performance and technology harmonize particularly well. They provide a glimpse of the power the film could have harnessed with a narrower focus, with its spirited and convincing performances.
Blunt is particularly committed to playing the role of Liza, a school dropout who meets Pete Brenner (Chris Evans, who fills his role as a morally dubious salesman) at the strip club that evening. Their conversation reveals Liza’s shrewdness and ability to manipulate a situation in her favor. Impressed and attracted to her, Pete offers Liza a job as a sales representative at Zanna. He doesn’t tell her that the company is on the verge of failure, but that wouldn’t have mattered to Liza, who immediately moves into a run-down motel with her daughter after their conversation.
The first act of Pain addicts chronicles Liza’s rise and is similar in structure to Adam McKay’s The big short film with its dramatic stills and close-ups. Yates collaborates with Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore Cinematographer George Richmond once again recreated the dizzying climax when Zanna makes a crucial deal and Liza moves into a different tax bracket. Voiceovers – most of them from Blunt – provide background information and explain how Pete and Liza conspired to bribe doctors into prescribing her medication.
Soon they are recruiting practitioners throughout the Southeast and raking in millions of dollars. Liza enlists her mother (Catherine O’Hara), who quickly becomes a burden. The relationship between mother and daughter is captured in a few poignant scenes, but some seem too indifferent to have the desired effect.
Zanna’s success triggers new levels of greed, and soon her CEO Jack Neel (Andy Garcia) begins pressuring Liza and Pete to force doctors to write prescriptions for treating minor pain rather than for cancer patients. Liza, who has been on board so far, begins to question the company’s goals. Despite Blunt’s captivating performance, the switch between Liza’s own desire to make a quick buck and her change of heart seems too abrupt to buy.
This also means the awkwardness between promotion and reciprocation Pain addicts doesn’t quite reach its emotional peak. The film returns to its documentary framework, pausing the narrative to allow each character – including patients whose lives were changed by Zanna and her doctors’ malpractice – to tell their story. In theory, these moments allow viewers to appreciate the toll of the epidemic, but in practice they risk dividing attention.
Pain addicts is at its strongest when it focuses on Liza, depicting her complicated web of desire and integrity. In a landscape filled with stories of an engineered crisis, its victims and malevolent actors, the perspective of the middlemen trying to survive in a country with a crumbling support system is a compelling thread worth exploring. It raises an uncomfortable and urgent question: How many of us would jump at the opportunity to change our lives, knowing deep down that the costs could be fatal?