Pain Hustlers

Directed by: David Yates
Distributed by: Netflix

Written by Taylor Baker


Handwringing about the opioid crisis seems to be Netflix’s creative direction these days, so it’s not much of a surprise that they’d greenlight an under-the-radar non-Sackler family-focused film to see how it performs alongside the score of other Pharma-bad and Sackler-bad releases on the platform. David Yates the filmmaker known for the last four “Harry Potter” films, and the now-canceled “Fantastic Beasts” series directs this latest imitation of art for the content-purveying giant. Before rising to big-budget filmmaking Yates cut his teeth directing television for the BBC alongside a few short features. The artistic flourishes that could be found in his earlier work have been ground down, with the director’s final versions now looking like approximations of products that move, rather than anything resembling art.

Yates’s choices as director lack originality or a sense of thoughtfulness, “Pain Hustlers” looks and behaves like any of the dozens of hapless documentaries and documentary series that Netflix pumps out regularly, more content than film. Nothing about the presentation suggests that film was the best or even a thoughtful mode to tell this story through. Its paint-by-numbers plodding narrative is entirely derivative and populated by cliches. Blunt exposits a significant amount of heavy lifting for the film that she’s up to the task of, but she never quite seems believable as a down-on-her-luck single mom estranged from her family and her ex-husband. It’s all too neat, too quick, and too flimsy. Yates delivers something that is adjacent to realism, but his incessant need to bring characters on the fringes back up over and over shows a shallow and ineffectual perspective on what he wants the film to do. 

Chris Evans continues his downward decline post MCU, with another nameless character of no real consequence or personality in yet another Netflix “original.” He’s donning the same general male lead-shaped character silhouette for these films, neither melding into the role nor doing something big and brash to make it his own, he’s like a reverse Humphrey Bogart where all you can see is him. And instead of being enthralled what you’re looking at is entirely uninteresting and ineffectual. His removal would necessitate no notable loss to the quality or narrative of the film, after his initial mechanical function of placing Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) into her role at the pharmaceutical company he has no consequence to the thrust of the narrative arc.

Yates leans too heavily on cutesy timing, flimsy seriousness, and cliche. There are no fingerprints of an artist to be found, just a chunk of content to be lost in the algorithm, which isn’t such a bad thing when the film is absolute piffle.

“Pain Hustlers” Trailer

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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