'Pain Hustlers' Review: Emily Blunt & Chris Evans Go From Broke To Selling False Hope
Have you watched enough films or shows that say something about opioids? Someone out there sure hopes that you haven't because they just keep pumping 'em out. Latest contribution to the phenomenon is crime drama Pain Hustlers, directed by David Yates and written by Wells Tower who's adapting Evan Hughes' nonfiction book of the same name. Emily Blunt stars as Liza Drake, a financially struggling single mom of her daughter Phoebe (Chloe Coleman) who whilst working at a strip club meets Pete Brenner (Chris Evans), a hotshot pharmaceutical sales manager working for erratic billionaire Jack Neel (Andy Garcia). With a dangerous opioid laced with fentanyl as the company's main product, falsified CVs and shady doctors in their pocket, Liza teams up with Pete as a sales rep for the potential riches before their questionable hustle grows a bit too large to sustain.
There are some things about the first 45 minutes or so that are iffy at best and we'll get
to those in a second but Yates and Tower are able to lay the snappy, crowd-pleasing and informative foundations rather well for the most part initially. While neither Yates nor DoP George Richmond creates impactful or signature visual language to make the film stand out from other material in its respective genre or even subject matter, there's enough energy carrying necessary exposition about the business and scummy operations so the storytelling mechanics, or their rhythms, never feel like they're spinning their wheels. That is thanks to some fine choices by editor Mark Day, light touches of humour and using suitable sound design or music to drive transitions and montages.
Aside from fairly uninteresting direction and style, Pain Hustlers also suffers severe side effects from really unfortunate sources. One of those sadly happens to be key casting choices by Fiona Weir and the helmer, particularly as they place Blunt in the spotlight who's just not at all convincing as an uneducated hustler in Florida of all places. Not helping the fact is pairing her with Catherine O'Hara (as Liza's mom and employee Jackie), both of them never really selling the reality of their characters' situations, as if they've never seen the capitalist wasteland that is the alleged ''American dream''. Evans also has a hard time with that to an extent, though his shaggy look does provide some credibility.
This is not to say that Blunt, Evans and O'Hara among others aren't capable actors as they communicate the movie's central themes—greed, deception and accountability—decently, they're just further brought down by Tower and Yates' work, which unnecessarily uses about five to seven different conflicts to shape the story from the second act's struggle to third act's motivations, all of which aren't crafted with proper sincerity. Phoebe's arc and Liza's ambivalence especially are hollow shells that ring terribly false when they're supposed to convey emotional deliverance for the film's last 30 minutes. Blunt gets a chance or two to portray that and her acting in terms of technique is up to the task, regrettably the story's level of significance isn't.
Frowneys: Casting, story
Rap it up, Pete? Wrap it up, I'd say.