Pain Hustlers Review – A dull Big Pharma story that does nothing new

By Amanda Guarragi
Published: October 27, 2023 (Last updated: October 29, 2023)
Pain Hustlers Review
Pain Hustlers - (L to R) Emily Blunt as Liza and Chris Evans as Brenner in Pain Hustlers | Image via Brian Douglas/Netflix


A very dull stylistic copycat exploring how corrupt Big Pharma can be in an all-too-familiar story.

Pain Hustlers, directed by David Yates, explores one particular pharmaceutical company’s rise and fall through a rags-to-riches story centering on Liza Drake (Emily Blunt). The film premiered at TIFF and is a Netflix original highlighting the unfortunate business of Big Pharma and how patients can overdose because of inaccurate testing. If it sounds like something you’ve seen before, that’s because it is, playing mostly as a stylistically dull copycat that retreads all-too-familiar ground.

The opioid crisis has plagued America since the 1990s with pharmaceutical companies taking advantage of patients. Not only Big Pharma, though, but corrupt doctors who have prescribed higher dosages for their patients. Almost everyone who works in pharmaceuticals has a hand in hoards of money per milligram no matter what doctors are prescribing. These are important issues given the most rote treatment possible.

Pain Hustlers review and plot summary

Liza Drake is a mother trying to make ends meet for her daughter Phoebe. Unfortunately, Phoebe has struggled with seizures, which the doctors have labeled as being caused by epilepsy, but that’s not the case. To provide for her daughter, Liza works at a strip club to make money until one night she meets Pete Brenner (Chris Evans), who ends up recruiting her.

Brenner works with a Big Pharma corporation and helps her get the job with a fake resume. He shows her how to cunningly have doctors sign off on prescribing their drug at a higher dose for their patients. At first, it was for cancer patients who were undergoing chemo, and then they moved it to people who were in remission. Liza Drake quickly climbed the corporate ladder by hooking doctors and recruiting other women who were having a difficult time financially, including her mother.

Here’s the issue with Pain Hustlers. It feels oddly familiar to The Big Short by Adam McKay, which was also emulating The Wolf of Wall Street by Martin Scorsese with its flashy, outrageous schemes and partying. The voice-over and internal dialogue from the characters combined with real-time conversations is confusing. Sure, it’s interesting to hear what these characters are thinking, but not while introducing other characters is cutting to individual interviews of these real people.

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Yates hasn’t worked on a non-Harry Potter film for a while, and unfortunately, it shows. He wanted to show that greed fuels power and throws morality out the window. It’s a textbook storyline that we’ve seen plenty of times with no groundbreaking performances to carry the movie. Blunt and Evans had two very different accents that didn’t quite work for their characters or the lines being delivered. The focus was more on Liza Drake and her family. Then the corrupt system of pharmaceuticals was woven into her story, but didn’t explore anything new.

The issue with this style of storytelling

Understandably, the media doesn’t do a fair job of covering what’s happening in the medical field, so the world turns to television or movies. When it comes to these stories, they’re all roughly the same, so it comes down to the directors, writers, and actors to bring something new and engaging to the table.

The flashiness of Pain Hustlers and the quick cuts with interviews and internal dialogue with voiceovers from the characters felt messy. If Scorsese hadn’t done it first, then this style wouldn’t have come to the mind of Yates. It’s unfair to compare films and filmmakers, but when the style is so blatantly copied it feels unoriginal.

From the moment it began this didn’t feel like a David Yates film. One could even question what that would entail, but it’s certainly not this. There are important moments in Pain Hustlers that should have presented more emotions and even connectivity to Liza Drake. It’s hard to care for unlikeable characters, but you still need the film to be engaging enough for audiences to want to see what happens in the end.

What did you think of Pain Hustlers? Comment below.


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