Based on the book by Evan Hughes, Emily Blunt and Chris Evans star as pharmaceutical drug reps who unwittingly help kickstart the opioid epidemic in the pursuit of financial success.
Based on the real-life story of capitalism run amok — chronicled by journalist Evan Hughes in his 2022 narrative non-fiction book, The Hard Sell — Pain Hustlers lures you into the glamour and excitement of success, however it may be achieved. Liza Drake (Emily Blunt) is a single mom working as a dancer at a bar when she meets Pete Brenner (Chris Evans), a greasy drug rep for a pharmaceutical startup on the verge of bankruptcy. With a hunch about her talent, he recruits her to peddle a new kind of opioid designed to give pain relief to cancer patients.
Completely out of her depth, Liza struggles to make a dent before convincing one doctor to favour her company’s drug, cracking the code and writing a new (unscrupulous) playbook for getting physicians to prescribe medication. She quickly makes her mark and forms a dazzling team that starts applying the scheme across the country. It rockets the company and Liza’s life to heights she could have never imagined. Liza eventually wakes up to the harm she’s sowing, which only complicates her relationship with Brenner, as he begins to see her as more than just a sales quota.
We root for Liza to provide a stable home for her daughter and help her mother (Catherine O’Hara), all the while doing our best to avoid the truth that she’s helping kickstart the opioid epidemic. It’s a stunning feat from Blunt, who gives a compassionate performance as a woman flying too close to a sun that's destroying people’s lives.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: coarse language, drug use