There are a number of major titles on Netflix’s 2023 movie schedule and, this past week, one of those flicks was finally released on the platform. The film in question is Pain Hustlers, a crime drama starring Emily Blunt, Chris Evans and Andy Garcia. Directed by Harry Potter veteran David Yates, this production gives viewers a taste of the pharmaceutical industry and the scandals that can arise within it. While general viewers are taking in the film this weekend, critics have also had a chance to give it a watch. And at this point, they all seem to agree on the Blunt and Evans-headed flick.
On the surface, this movie has a lot going for it. There’s an intriguing premise, a capable filmmaker at the helm and some A-list stars to play out the tale. However, it would seem that this latest cinematic venture falls relatively short of its goals, based on the reviews from film pundits. CinemaBlend’s own Mike Reyes screened it and ultimately dubbed it a low dosage kind of drama. While he commended the actors for giving their best efforts, he argued that the production moves along to quickly to provide layered character arcs or any true commentary on big pharma:
We’ve seen plenty of darkly comedic movies with a heavy dramatic undercurrent designed to dissect the corrupt systems that have run unchecked for some time. Usually, the lesson isn’t as clearly stated, yet utterly lacking in effectiveness as it is in Pain Hustlers. That combination makes for an unremarkable cinematic placebo that’ll be flushed out of your system in a quick and painless manner. It may move fast, but it leaves no lasting trace of being there in the first place.
Another point that Mike Reyes made was his dislike of the pacing and rapid shifts between comedic and dramatic tones. A similar sentiment is also held by Liz Shannon Miller. While writing for Consequence of Sound, she acknowledged that the film avoids simply becoming a parody of other opioid-centered productions (specifically Dopesick) but opined that it doesn’t leaving a lasting impression as other dramatizations do:
Pain Hustlers manages to avoid feeling like an Adam McKay remake of Dopesick, but its shifting tone never quite hits the right notes: “Inspired by true events” offers up a lot of narrative freedom, but it reduces the potency of any potential message, especially when its heroine is operating in a much more gray area than Julia Roberts’ corporation-busting activist ever did. Though it may not be an awards contender, there are still sparks throughout to appreciate, especially in Blunt and Evans’ performances. Thanks to them, there’s a lot of humanity to be found in the film — the best and the worst of it.
An adaptation of Evan Hughes’ The Hard Sell: Crime and Punishment at an Opioid Startup, the film sees Emily Blunt play Liza Drake, an ex-stripper and single mother who’s thrust into the world of pharmaceuticals. Chris Evans’ scrupulous Pete Brenner serves as her guide, and the two manage to make some serious cash while getting drawn into a criminal conspiracy. Aside from Andy Garcia, the Pain Hustlers cast Catherine O’Hara, Jay Duplass and Brian d'Arcy James also star. Blunt and Evans are called upon to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Empire’s Barry Levitt – who also had trouble with the pacing – agrees with Mike Reyes that the opioid drama doesn’t effectively utilize their talents:
Blunt does the best she can to breathe life into Liza, a fictional character in an inspired-by-true-events story. But around the halfway point, it becomes clear there’s no space for her to add any dimension to her character — though she still delivers the strongest performance. Chris Evans has done well playing jerks in the past (see: Knives Out), but Pete is detestable to the point of unbearable, and Evans is unable to find any nuance in the role.
There are critics who have more favorable thoughts on David Yates’ latest feature, though, and one such person is Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson. She admitted that while some of its story beats are recognizable, she believes it’s mostly effective – and that it’s in great part due to the performance of the lead actress:
The plot beats are predictable at this point for a movie that is, in the end, about business guys. Yet unlike movies like Air and BlackBerry, the stakes are extraordinarily high, since the wares they’re peddling aren’t sneakers or phones: they’re opioids, and the more addicted the patients are, the more money they make. Thanks largely to Blunt’s performance, Pain Hustlers manages to be lively and moving, while also illuminating exactly how broken the American health care system is and how all of us are caught in its claws.
But if you ask IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, the performances aren’t enough to save this film. Like some of the other pundits quoted here, he believes the filmmakers missed a firm chance to provide a meaningful look into one of the United States’ biggest medical emergencies:
The problem with ‘Pain Hustlers’ isn’t that its approach to the opioid crisis feels glib (it does), or that Yates keeps digitally inserting Dobby the elf into scenes of pharmaceutical sales reps pushing their latest drugs on morally flexible doctors (he doesn’t), but rather that the film takes a golden opportunity to explore the desperate personal choices that compounded into one of our most dire national crises, and wastes it on the same kind of superficial crime drama that’s already been made about myriad other “victimless crimes” and get-rich-quick schemes just like it.
As of this writing, the film has notched a 22% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while an audience score has yet to be reported. At the very least though, it would seem that Netflix subscription holders are checking it out, as the crime drama is currently #1 on the streamer’s trending list in the U.S. Others may see the merits in this motion picture as well but, all in all, if you take the pundits’ collective word for it, this movie is a tough pill to swallow.
Pain Hustlers is available now amongst other 2023 new movie releases on Netflix. Those who are interested can also check out some of Emily Blunt’s best movies and learn where they can check those out.