In the wake of convictions of pharmaceutical giants involved in America’s opioid crisis, their stories are becoming fodder for Netflix productions.

While it was Pain Killer some time ago delving into the Purdue Pharma scam, the latest to hit the streaming giant is Pain Hustlers.

The movie highlights how the illegal use of Fentanyl by Insys Therapeutics led to an opioid scam.

Image Credits: Respective Owners

Based on the book, The Hard Sell: Crime and Punishment at an Opioid Startup, by Evan Hughes, Pain Hustlers, the film makes several changes to the plot, including the names of the characters and the firm itself.

You can find some information regarding it in the FAQs section of my review.

The movie is roughly two hours long and promises an offbeat, bittersweet, and provocative outing.

Pain Hustlers Synopsis

Pete Brenner, an executive at Zanna Pharmaceuticals, hires a broke single mom, Liza Drake, as a sales executive.

Her first task is to find a doctor to prescribe the drug, Lonafen, a sublingual fentanyl spray (onscreen). But the task is mightier than she expected.

Directed by David Yates, Pain Hustlers stars Emily Blunt (Liza Drake), Chris Evans (Pete Brenner), Catherina O’Hara (Jackie), Andy Garcia (Dr. Neel), and others.

What Works for Pain Hustlers?

Arising out of a true story, already chronicled in a book, Pain Hustlers just had to execute the material.

The makers don’t go for the exact narrative followed by Evan Hughes.

They try to incorporate it like a documentary, making actors occasionally sit for a one-on-one interview, just to evoke authenticity.

Image Credits: Netflix

I guess they soon realized it cannot go on like that, for it isn’t actually a documentary. 

Yet, the film’s true strength lies in its unflinching portrayal of a harsh reality.

It exposes the avarice of a pharmaceutical behemoth that callously ensnared and victimized innocent citizens, while lawmakers turned a blind eye to the devastation.

Purdue Pharma also finds a mention in Pain Hustlers, driving a point that the people in question were at least better than them, which obviously is negated in the film itself.

The movie runs at a brisk pace. Its screenplay is not entangled in boundaries, which allows it to flourish and avoid being a tardy watch.

Moreover, the plot is handled quite well. No character seems off, despite being part of a structured creative proposition.

The elements of emotion and grit do not get entirely overpowered in a growing glamour blitz.

So, when you see the eventual triggers unfold, it becomes much easier to interact with the hidden plight of the victims.

How are the Performances?

Emily Blunt marches as a tenacious Liza Drake in Pain Hustlers. Her compelling presence imbues the film’s main protagonist with substance.

She realistically engages with the subject, thereby initiating a properly exhaustive depiction. Emily’s presence means a lot to Pain Hustlers, which would have been a different film in her absence.  

Image Credits: Netflix

Chris Evans is elegant and dashing as Pete Brenner. His authoritative countenance doubles up as an intelligent act of spontaneity.

Both the lead actors infuse a dash of artistic flamboyance that keeps the card ticking for Pain Hustlers.

What Doesn’t Work for Pain Hustlers?

Perhaps due to the constraints of cinematic storytelling, the Netflix film appears to sugarcoat the actual events, softening the stark reality of the much grimmer real-life crime.

Insys Therapeutics played a significant role in America’s opioid crisis, and one would expect the narrative to evoke a stronger emotional response, if not send shivers down the spine. 

However, ‘Pain Hustlers’ falls short in this regard, lacking the provocative punch it should have delivered.

Image Credits: Netflix

A prime example is the recent release, Pain Killer, which tackled a similar theme. 

It prompted reflection and a deep connection to the aftermath of the crime, unlike Pain Hustlers, which takes a step back, focusing more on style and the protagonist’s character development.

The film’s emphasis on aesthetics and character growth comes at the expense of giving the victims their due spotlight. 

While some may appreciate this approach, a more comprehensive exploration would have likely satisfied a larger audience.

Lastly, I, personally, did not like the idea of making actors sit and talk as if they were real people. It is understood that they might be talking to detectives within their characters.

Still, embellishing the narration in this fashion leaves much to be desired.

Stream or Skip?

Considering the topic, it would be unfair to deny a chance to Pain Hustlers. The film can be watched but expecting a perfect portrayal would be too much.


Is Zanna Pharmaceuticals a Real Company?

No, it is a fictional name used as a replacement for Insys Therapeutics.

What was the Insys Scandal About?

Insys Therapeutics would bribe doctors to prescribe the Subsys drug to people who didn’t need it.

The company would also mislead Insurance firms into paying for the drug. It would act as the doctor’s office asking for payment, and would sometimes misrepresent the actual condition of the patient.

Moreover, Insys Therapeutics used to run dozens of misleading advertisements to lure doctors.

It was in 2012 when a sales representative of the firm blew the whistle about its illegal activities. However, his allegations were ignored by the law enforcement agencies.

Who is Liza Drake?

She is no more than a fictional character in Pain Hustlers.

Is Pain Hustlers a True Blue Replica of Evan Hughes’ book?

No, the narration, names, settings, locations, primary characters, and several other changes have been made to make it look distinct from the book.

Who is Dr. Neel Played by Andy Garcia?

Dr. Neel is a fictional character, who is the founder of Zanna Pharmaceuticals. He represents the real-life John Kapoor, the creator of Insys Therapeutics.

Even in the book, Evan Hughes uses the real name but, for some reason, Pain Hustlers avoids doing it.

Who was the whistleblower in the Insys Pharma Case?

The real name of the whistle-blower never made it to the news.

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