Synopsis: Upon losing her job, a blue-collar woman struggling to raise her daughter takes a job at a failing pharmaceutical start-up, only to get involved in a dangerous racketeering scheme.
Stars: Emily Blunt, Chris Evans, Andy García, Catherine O’Hara, Jay Duplass, Brian d’Arcy James, Chloe Coleman, Britt Rentschler
Director: David Yates
Running Length: 122 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: When watching a movie or television show, my partner or I often turn to the other and say, “Do you know who would have been great in this role?” the answer is always the same. Emily Blunt. Some actors just fit with multiple genres and character types, and Blunt is an actress who has succeeded even when making some bafflingly against-the-grain decisions. I wouldn’t mind seeing her pop up in every movie, but that’s just me being greedy. Already in 2023, she’s earned high praise for her supporting turn in July’s Oppenheimer, which has her on a fast track to her long-overdue first Oscar nomination, and now she’s arrived with a plum role in Pain Hustlers for Netflix.
From director David Yates, Pain Hustlers is a flashy, fast-moving chart of the rise of the opioid crisis via shady pharmaceutical start-ups with another sensational performance from Blunt (A Quiet Place). If only the rest of the movie were as layered with nuance as Blunt’s turn as Liza Drake, a down-on-her-luck exotic dancer who unexpectedly finds her calling as a rep for a Florida drug company. When the single mother gets the job pitch from Pete Brenner (Chris Evans, Knives Out), a regular at her club, she initially dismisses it as a strings-attached offer. After she finds herself living in a rundown motel with her daughter (Chloe Coleman, My Spy), she reconsiders and walks into the unremarkable office owned by Jack Neel (Andy Garcia, Jennifer 8)
Liza gets a crash course in her new role as a pharmaceutical rep, learning that it requires more than just selling the product’s benefits but detailing how the prescribing doctor gets a kickback for every patient who starts taking the drug. Each patient means a commission for Liza, and once she learns the game, she masters it quickly, rising to the top but learning too late the real-world cost of coming out ahead. Friends she made in her early days run into devastating consequences, and even her mother (a much-missed Catherine O’Hara, Beetlejuice) gets snagged in this sticky web.
While Yates (The Legend of Tarzan) never lets the scope overwhelm the message, it can drag a bit as it moves toward the second hour. It’s a big production that wants to feel like it’s made with the same verve as The Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short, but it lacks a hard-nosed edge to play in the same league as those films. It also suffers in the timing arena as well. I feel like this story has been told multiple times in film, limited series, and documentaries over the last half-decade, so my brain was already saturated with the structure of a) a person who comes from nothing who b) makes it big and c) learns there’s a considerable price for getting what they want.
What I did appreciate in Pain Hustlers, and this is what has always made Yates a strong director, is the way he pays attention to minor character turns, casting excellent actors (like Britt Rentschler from the also fantastic Pretty Problems as the wife of a man who becomes addicted to the drug Blunt shills) to fill out pivotal roles. While I love seeing Blunt excel (especially when the acting from Evans and Garcia gets a little ‘Sure Jan’-y), I go crazy for meaty bite-sized roles that may be on the screen briefly but leave a lasting impact. Pain Hustlers as a movie may not linger long after you finish it, but I’m betting your mind returns to these performances in the following days.