Starring: Emily Blunt, Chris Evans, Andy Garcia, Chloe Coleman, and Catherine O'Hara
Director: David Yates
I find difficulty in enjoying movies where all the characters are despicable people doing despicable things, which is exactly what Pain Hustlers is. There is just no one to root for, so I was left watching things unfold, quietly waiting for everyone to get their comeuppance. It doesn’t take the opioid crisis very seriously, which would be fine had it leaned further into the comedy, but it approaches things too straight-faced (same issue as Dumb Money). This made it all feel… cruel. That said, there likely will be an audience for this B-movie version of The Wolf of Wall Street, but I’m not it.
Pain Hustlers wants to be The Wolf of Wall Street so badly that it forgot to be good…at all. It wants to have it both ways in its approach to the opioid crisis: highlighting the depravity of the people pushing the drugs while also attempting a humanizing character study. Sadly, it fails at both, especially considering how tame the movie really is. In short, it’s too easy. It offers simple answers and takes quick shortcuts in how it handles the subject matter. If you want a good example of style over substance, look no further.
Pain Hustlers is one long pharmaceutical-movie trope that flirts with being cliché. It is based on a highly fictionalized true story that takes generous liberties to sell the viewer and inject some emotional connection. That said, director David Yates mostly succeeds in his intention, even if it feels a little choppy and stylistically conflicted. Emily Blunt and Chris Evans are fantastic, playing the traumatized hustlers in a way that gives the film some realism, but also diametrically opposing the intended indictment of the opioid crisis. Despite its faults, I guiltily admit to finding this film to be acceptably serviceable entertainment.
The fact that Pain Hustlers is so blatantly derivative, like Dopesick through the lens of The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short, means that the story and character arcs feel secondary to simply capturing “the vibe.” It also doesn’t help that, at this point, movies (and series) covering the opioid epidemic already feel played out. That said, there are enough singular moments to make it relatively entertaining, even if it’s not likely to stick with you, including a fiery (and rapping) Chris Evans in full Boston accent, Emily Blunt being her typical awesome self, a nice soundtrack, and an appealingly shiny veneer.
Pain Hustlers may fancy itself as the next The Wolf of Wall Street or The Big Short, but it feels like a low-budget imitation of those films rather than something that can stand alongside them. The flashy soundtrack, narration, and cut-away interview segments all feel extremely derivative and inappropriate. The soulless script isn’t exactly brought to life by Emily Blunt or Chris Evans either, with it being strikingly clear that neither of them have the charisma to carry something like this. At its best, Pain Hustlers is forgettable; at its worst, it’s downright offensive.
Pain Hustlers tries very much to be like The Wolf of Wall Street of pharmaceutical movies, and while it may be somewhat superficial, it excels in the entertainment department. What makes this flick work so well is the story and cast. The story itself is wildly captivating, but still manages to feel grounded and real, and the top-notch cast seems to be having a blast portraying these characters. Yes, admittedly, the film doesn’t say anything new about money or greed, but it remains a light watch about the drug crisis that is worth your time.
This film was reviewed by Nick and Adriano as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.