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TIFF 2023 Review: Pain Hustlers

A financially struggling pole dancer accepts a job offer from sales representative at pharmaceutical startup that is on the verge of bankruptcy and in the quest for market dominance for pain killer medication sparks opioid epidemic .

Financial disasters seem to follow Liza Drake around and in a desperate effort to regain control of her life she approaches a bar patron Pete Brenner about his offer of employment at a pharmaceutical company that specializes in pain medication for cancer patients.  The trouble is that the enterprise is in dire straits and desperately needs a high-profile doctor to prescribe their product in order for them to gain legitimacy.  It turns out that Drake is savvy at marketing and along with Brenner, a new economic juggernaut is born.  The trouble with success is being able to build upon it which causes ethical lines to be crossed and for Drake to have a crisis of conscience.

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The major problem was how to make these reprehensible antics watchable and the answer is in casting the effervescent Emily Blunt and giving her a daughter with a serious medical condition, and having Chris Evans play against type and be foul-mouthed and morally compromised.  It is a joy to see Blunt and Evans onscreen together as their interactions are priceless.  Despite the best efforts of Blunt, the redemption arc of her character is not something that the audience can completely buy as she like the others were driven by greed.   Evans is definitely having fun and it is hard not to want to party with him.

After so many years of directing the Harry Potter franchise, it was interesting to see filmmaker David Yates approach an entirely different subject matter and the style this time around is in the vein of The Wolf of Wall Street where life becomes a party of excess.  There are slow-motion shots and a rock’n’roll soundtrack that keeps the action grooving at a steady speed.  The slickness of the production value does not get in the way of the storytelling but the script itself feels somewhat forced at times.  It was an interesting choice to feature ‘interview’ clips and to have Evans narrate the opening and Blunt the conclusion because it is a great way to fill in the exposition and get into the minds of the characters in an entertaining manner.


The 48th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 7-17, 2023, and for more information visit    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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