The Netflix True Crime Drama Rotten Tomatoes Gets 100% Wrong

By Shanna Mathews-Mendez | Updated

Pain Hustlers has failed in the eyes of the critics, with Rotten Tomatoes giving it just 23 percent positive reviews. Audiences rate significantly higher, at 64 percent positive. Yet, I still struggle to understand why this movie has not been more well-received. It’s got an amazing cast, a great story, a totally acceptable narrative arc, and enough dramedy to last a lifetime. Sometimes, critics just get it wrong.

Critics Are Tired Of Opioid Epidemic Movies

Maybe it’s because they’re jaded, which is understandable. There have been a lot of movies about the opioid epidemic in recent years, some of them great, others not so much. By the time Pain Hustlers arrived on Netflix, in October of 2023, many people were tired of this story, and then the instant negative reviews likely turned a ton of people off from watching the film altogether, which is, in a word, tragic. 

Critical Composite Storytelling

Pain Hustlers 2023

Far from being a biography following a single person, company, or drug, like many films on this subject, or a documentary outlining the exact context and details involved, Pain Hustlers acts as a sort of memoir that encapsulates the entire opioid era. Characters in the film are not based on a specific person but rather represent a composite of figures who were affected at this time. The screenplay is drawn from original material written by Evan Hughes for New York Times Magazine, which he then developed into a nonfiction book, Pain Hustlers. 

The writing by Wells Tower and directing by David Yates for Pain Hustlers are fantastic, with witty dialogue, slick moves, and wild, almost hallucinatory scenes that reveal the emotion behind the decisions these major players made. And the actors standing in for these major players? Emily Blunt, Chris Evans, Andy Garcia, and Catherine O’Hara deliver in ways that make us love them so much, hate to love them, and then love to hate them in a perfect trajectory of storytelling. 

The Wrong Kind Of Success

Pain Hustlers 2023

Pain Hustlers opens on a single mom down on her luck, Liza Drake (Emily Blunt), who mingles with a slick pharmaceutical rep, Peter Brenner (Chris Evans), one night when he visits the strip club where she dances. He’s so impressed by her fast-talking at the bar that he offers her a job at his company, Zanna.

Meanwhile, Liza discovers her daughter has a major brain disease that requires serious and expensive surgery. Liza is highly motivated to push the drug she’s supposed to be hustling on doctors, and because of her winning personality, she’s successful. 

Pushing Prescriptions To Boost Sales

Pain Hustlers 2023

Zanna, which was at the point of failing, suddenly becomes hugely successful under Pete and Liza, and the eccentric owner, Doctor Jack Neel (Andy Garcia), is so impressed he promotes them both. Pain Hustlers really takes off at this point, with the creation of a sales team, compiled largely of super hot young college girls, who spread across the country to lure doctors into prescribing their drug, Lonafen, to terminal cancer patients instead of the alternative. 

Go Along Or Get Along

Pain Hustlers 2023

Of course, as the success of the drug grows and the money starts rolling in, the push to get the pain hustlers to convince doctors to prescribe this drug to anyone with pain begins, and that’s where things get wild. Everyone involved at this point has a decision to make, go along to get along, or get out and leave the fame and fortune behind. It’s a tough point in the story because it isn’t that Lonafen isn’t effective, it’s that it is too effective, and it is not meant for non-terminal patients experiencing pain. 

Stream Pain Hustlers On Netflix

Pain Hustlers 2023


To go into more detail would be to ruin the movie; suffice to say that if you are able to suspend disbelief and just be present for the film, you can kind of relate to everyone involved, even as you hate yourself for it. Pain Hustlers tells a story of humanity on all levels, and I think it’s a story that should be told more often. Also, full disclosure, I would watch literally anything with Emily Blunt in it, so take that for what you will. 

Pain Hustlers isn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s a good one that’s worth streaming on Netflix next Friday night with popcorn and an open mind.