Pain Hustlers Parent Guide
Standout performances and a timely topic aren't enough to save this film from mediocre writing and a lack of focus.
Parent Movie Review
Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) is a single mom who can’t seem to catch a break. To make ends meet she works as a stripper and lives in her sister’s garage with her daughter, Phoebe (Chloe Coleman). When a businessman (Chris Evans) visiting the strip club hands her his card and offers her a job, Liza is thrown into the fast-paced world of pharmaceutical sales and suddenly has more money than she ever imagined.
All that lovely money comes at a price. Liza pushes the legal boundaries in pursuit of profits, which sets off a chain reaction of business decisions that get further and further from a legal safe zone. As Liza begins to see the human cost of fentanyl sales, she starts to wonder if the money is worth it.
The opioid crisis is a complicated tragedy that has not yet been resolved, though large pharmaceutical companies are starting to feel the legal and financial consequences of their predatory actions. Pain Hustlers attempts to delve into this complex issue by telling the story of one fictional company’s rise and fall (loosely based on a real company, Insys Therapeutics). Unfortunately, the writers fail to capture the deeper issues and instead tell a shallow and confused story that can’t seem to find its message.
I have no problem with humanizing some of the people who unwittingly ushered in the opioid crisis. Real people aren’t black and white and I’m sure many of the people who are now in jail for their involvement started with good intentions or had complex feelings and motivations. What I’m not okay with is painting the opioid crisis like it was all a big mistake and everyone involved was just caught up in the fun of making money. The movie does not offer enough outright condemnation of the perpetrators of one of the worst public health crises of our time. With hundreds of thousands dead to enrich a few salespeople, corporate executives, and shareholders, it’s impossible to avoid outrage and grief. Although the script offers some focus on the victims, it mostly comes in at the very end, almost like an afterthought.
Pain Hustlers also completely fails to say anything about the American healthcare system and the perverse incentives which encouraged the overprescription of opioids, thereby magnifying the opioid crisis. The film places the blame solely on pharmaceutical companies, with a little slap on the wrist for corrupt doctors. The American government comes off as a savior, doing everything to keep Big Pharma in check, which we all know is far from reality.
In short, I think the writing fails its subject. That said, the performances are fantastic. Blunt expertly depicts the conflict between humanity and greed, and Evans is deliciously sleazy. The supporting cast are all terrific, and I’ll give a special nod to Catherine O’Hara, who is always a treat in everything she does.
With high levels of profanity plus some nudity and substance use, this is not a film for young audiences. If the writers had handled the subject matter more deftly I could see this film’s value as an educational tool, but there are far better productions, both fictional and documentary, that handle the topic with more nuance and depth. This just feels like David Yates wanted to make The Wolf of Wall Street and forgot what story he was supposed to be telling.
Directed by David Yates. Starring Chris Evans, Emily Blunt, Catherine O'Hara. Running time: 122 minutes. Theatrical release October 27, 2023. Updated October 27, 2023
Watch the trailer for Pain Hustlers
Rating & Content Info
Why is Pain Hustlers rated R? Pain Hustlers is rated R by the MPAA for language throughout, some sexual content, nudity and drug use.
Violence: A woman punches a man in the face.
Sexual Content: Some scenes take place in strip clubs. Bare breasts are seen. There are allusions to sexual favors being exchanged for sales. A man performs oral sex on another man, though no nudity is shown.
Profanity: The script contains over 45 sexual expletives, with 30 mild and moderate expletives and around fifteen uses of terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults drink alcohol in social situations. Adult characters smoke cigarettes. A man snorts cocaine. The plot revolves around fentanyl sales, with discussion of addiction and overdoses.
Page last updated October 27, 2023
Pain Hustlers Parents' Guide
How do the different characters juggle their greed and their humanity? What wins out for each character and how does that affect their choices? What role does rationalization play in their decision making?
This film is based on a true story. For more information you can follow these links:
The New York Times: The Pain Hustlers
Wikipedia: Insys Therapeutics
For more on the opioid epidemic, you can read these articles:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Drug Overdose Deaths
NSC: Drug Overdoses
Wikipedia: Opioid Epidemic
The New York Times: Origins of an Epidemic: Purdue Pharma Knew Its Opioids Were Widely Abused
Time: The Opioid Diaries
National Library of Medicine: Missouri Medicine: The Opioid Epidemic: It’s Time to Place Blame Where It Belongs
Scientific American: We’re Overlooking a Major Culprit in the Opioid Crisis
Related home video titles:
If you want to look deeply into the opioid crisis, your best option is Dopesick, a miniseries streaming on Hulu (Disney+ outside the USA). The topic is difficult and there’s a fair bit of profanity, but this can be a valuable education for mature teens.
Pain Hustlers shows the wealth to be generated from opiates, but Four Good Days illuminates the terrible price paid by those who become addicted to the drugs. In this harrowing film, a heroin addict needs to stay clean for four days in order to qualify for a treatment that might free her from her nightmare. In A Good Person, a woman becomes addicted to oxycontin after a tragedy and must overcome the ghosts of her past before she can get clean. A father desperately tries to help his son, who has become addicted to heroin in Beautiful Boy.