Inspired by a 2018 New York Magazine article written by Evan Hughes (who also later wrote a nonfiction book named The Hard Sell), David Yates zeroes in on the enthralling dark side of the medicine industry. The magnificent cast of three, combining Emily Blunt, Chris Evans, and Andy Garcia, makes Pain Hustlers even more gripping.
Everything about this film becomes so intriguing that, after a while, reality hits you with a lot of questions as you start doubting your prescription from yesterday. What if your doctor is lying about a drug? You may not require it for your migraine, but what if he is suggesting it to you because he finds profit in it? In the realm of the scammers, what if a doctor scams too?
Pain Hustlers (2023) Plot Summary and Movie Synopsis
The story unfolds from the perspective of Liza Drake, who is struggling to pay for everything while working shifts in a strip club. There, she once met Pete Brenner, one of the marketing heads of a failing company named Zanna, headed by Dr. Jack Neel. Liza knows how to get a man talking without even seducing him much, and that is how she gets a job interview via Brenner.
Brenner is also looking to save the company as their latest drug, Lonafen, is not doing well in the market. The company is on the verge of going bankrupt as no investor wants to put their heads into the mess and struggle to breathe in the upcoming dark days of Zanna. Around this time, Brenner finds a woman in a strip club who convinces him to talk to her, and this impresses him, if not for the alcohol anyway.
What Happens to Liza after her meeting with Pete?
The thing about Liza Drake and her career so far is, in one word, fragile. She doesn’t have a consistent job; she has a mother who thinks of herself as an artist and a daughter who gets seizures once in a while. Liza lives in her sister’s garage while putting up with all the discouraging talks from her. Amidst this, she meets Pete Brenner, who gives her his card and asks her to come for an interview.
Liza knows that someone out there values her skills, unlike her sister, who always tries to humiliate her in front of her close ones for her unstable life. So, she decides to move from the garage and finds a neighborhood where she starts living with her daughter. However, the neighborhood is not as pleasant as she thinks it will be as there is a lot of noise, which can turn out to be a very bad influence on her daughter. So, she decides to take the interview at Zanna.
At Zanna, things are really not going well for Dr. Neel. They are not even hiring new staff, and then Liza Drake arrives. The COO of the company, Larkin, is strictly against even interviewing Liza, but Pete goes with her into his office. He finds Liza’s resume definitely not fit for a salesperson in the drugs business. But, while talking to Liza, he finds an urge within her to grab any opportunity and make the best out of it.
Also, Zanna has nothing to lose right now, so Pete edits the resume himself and then tells Dr. Neel that Liza has done her Ph.D. Liza is in it swiftly like a dream, but she has found herself on a tight deadline with an almost impossible target since nobody is buying Lonafen as no doctor is suggesting them to the patients.
What does Liza do to save Zanna and its drug, Lonafen?
In the beginning, Liza thinks about how hard selling a drug can be. She thinks of her past experience of selling her body in the strip club. But when she first visits Dr. Lydell in his chamber, she finds out that selling a woman’s body is the definition of selling drugs in this business. Well, Liza will not take the road because right after getting the job, she wants to live with her head held high in society. So, she tries hard, but the other pharmaceuticals have already assigned women to each doctor, and the way they seduce them, it is really hard for Liza to sell even one Lonafen tablet in the town.
But, as the deadline approaches, she goes to talk to Dr. Lydell one last time. She goes there with an honest intention but finds out that Lydell is prescribing medicine to a patient which is not showing any effect whatsoever. The side effects the patient is describing are the perfect suit for a Lonafen dosage, but Lydell will not prescribe it. Liza confronts that in front of the patient, and then the family pushes Lydell to prescribe the medicine.
Since the patient is suffering from cancer and wants to spend more time with his children, he wants to try anything to live more. But Lonafen performs magically, and the patient is free from the pain he has had to endure for a long time. But, this wasn’t the main reason for the celebration for the employees at Zanna. The main reason was that some doctor prescribed their medicine, and they have witnessed a ray of hope.
Liza tells Larkin, the COO, that she has promised Lydell that he will be launching the speaker program for Zanna, and then he agrees to sell more Lonafen. Well, this right here is the problem, as Zanna doesn’t have any speaker program. So, Pete and Liza organize a speaker program on their own without letting Larkin know about any of this. They now have Dr. Lydell in their pocket, and suddenly, the stocks of Zanna start dominating the market.
What is the reason behind Zanna’s fall?
Everything goes smoothly as Zanna is able to market their drug, Lonafen, by hiring a lot of desperate and attractive women and utilizing them by targeting all the doctors in the town. As the company grows to billion-dollar profits from nothing, the owner, Dr. Neel, fails to handle the pressure. He starts acting weird in and outside the office as he decides to sell more Lonafen apart from the cancer patients.
Now, here lies the problem that Liza finds out. The FBI is very diligent with the off-selling of any drugs. Now, when you sell a cancer medicine to a patient with just a high fever, that’s a red flag right there. Zanna wants more than that. They ask the doctors to prescribe Lonafen for every disease they encounter, and in return, they will receive big checks from Zanna.
This doesn’t go well as people start to die, and some get serious addiction. Lonafen contains fentanyl, which may lead to serious addiction, even causing death. This scenario breaks Liza into pieces as no matter how many times she tries to stop this from happening, Dr. Neel and Pete won’t listen to her. Then she decides to go to the Government herself and expose Zanna.
Pain Hustlers (2023) Movie Ending Explained:
How does Liza expose Dr. Neel?
Everyone is an easy suspect for the government right after Liza’s confession, but no one can touch Dr. Neel, the main culprit in the whole scenario. Dr. Neel doesn’t even sign any documents directly; he doesn’t use a smartphone either. He doesn’t respond to emails also, and without physical evidence, it is very hard to show his involvement in this crime. So, Liza comes up with a plan, but that, too, results in failure as Pete catches her red-handed.
Pete explains to Dr. Neel that Liza has already confessed to the government, so Dr. Neel’s lawyer comes up with a proposition that Pete must take all the blame, and then he will be taken care of by Dr. Neel. Pete does so, and the court fails to prove any involvement of Dr. Neel as he portrays himself as an outside investor in the company. Zanna is seized as of now, but the culprit is roaming free, swimming in his sophisticated pool while everyone is suffering the consequences of his greed and desperation.
However, while Zanna was hiring a lot of women as salespeople, Liza also made her mother an employee. So, once at a party, Dr. Neel and Liza’s mother spend the night together, and the next morning, Dr. Neel gives her his personal email ID. Liza’s mother talks business with him through the mail, asking for more incentives, mentioning all the details of how they paid the doctor, and a lot more stuff. Luckily, only once did Dr. Neel reply to those emails.
This confirms his knowledge about what is going on inside Zanna and his involvement in it. This is basically the most valuable evidence that put him behind bars for more than five years. Liza is sent to jail as well; however, the government requests a ‘no-jail’ appeal as she stands up against such a heinous crime. But, her jail time is minimal compared to Dr. Neel and Pete Brenner.
Is Pain Hustlers (2023) based on a True Story?
Yes. At the end of the film, we see the original name of the drug was not Lonafen but Subsys. The name of the company and owner were also changed in the film as we see the FBI arresting a doctor named John Kapoor, who owned the company named Insys. The length of the jail time is mentioned correctly in the film. John Kapoor was found guilty of bribing doctors to prescribe powerful and addictive drugs to people who never required them.