Pain Hustlers (2023), David Yates’ exposé of big pharmaceuticals, blatantly takes Scorsese’s The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013) as its aesthetic blueprint. Produced for the streaming giant Netflix, Pain Hustlers attempts to balance the greed and debauchery of its characters with a public service announcement about America’s opioid crisis. Where Scorsese embraced the spectacle of avarice until it became disgusting beyond belief, Pain Hustlers casually walks back from that strategy to embrace a more traditional and sentimental conclusion to its narrative where redemption is possible.
For a long time now director David Yates has been the primary author of Warner Bros. Harry Potter cinematic universe. The very real world of Pain Hustlers is a far cry from the children’s fantasy Yates has been peddling. A fact that seems to have resulted with an overall detachment from the subtleties of human behavior in Yates’ direction. Chris Evans and Emily Blunt seem to just drift through the movie without any ties to the various circumstances that comprise the plot of the film. One gets the impression that every night after shooting Pain Hustlers that Yates retreated to an isolated room to watch The Wolf Of Wall Street again in order to revitalize his own sensibility.
Ironically, The Wolf Of Wall Street is no masterpiece. The film simply caught lightning in a bottle and has therefore gone on to become one of the most influential films of the 2010s. But its formula and its style are beyond anyone except for Martin Scorsese. The Wolf Of Wall Street is, on a formal level, a continuation of Scorsese’s gangster films Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995). The formal aesthetic apparatus of those two films has merely been redressed as a corporate exposé; an anti-capitalist and anti-American spectacle. No matter how David Yates and writer Wells Tower try they can never re-create Scorsese’s style in Pain Hustlers.
This, unfortunately, leaves Pain Hustlers without narrative momentum or unity. Chris Evans, a mediocre actor with incredible charisma, winds up looking like he’s doing an impression of someone’s impression of Leonardo DiCaprio. Emily Blunt fairs a bit better except that the arc she is tasked with playing has all the nuance of a Hallmark Christmas special. So the dramatic weight and overall legitimacy of Pain Hustlers falls to the character actors in supporting roles (Andy Garcia and Catherine O’Hara) who are experienced enough to create a sense of world entirely on their own.
Pain Hustlers is cookie cutter cinema. It’s a Marvel movie for the audience left unimpressed by countless explosions and spandex. There is nothing about Pain Hustlers to recommend it other than the fact that its numerous poor reviews indicate a popular weariness regarding this kind of big business thriller.