Director: Peter Berg
Cast: UzoAduba, Matthew Broderick, West Duchovny, Taylor Kitsch, Carolina Bartczak, Dina Shihabi, Brian Markinson, Clark Gregg, Sam Anderson and Tyler Ritter
Netflix dubbed the mini-series Painkiller as a fictionalised retelling of real events and it is indeed an eye-opener amid US’s ongoing opioid crisis. As it narrates stories of innocent lives lost, uncovered the perpetrators, Sackler family and their company, it also makes one realise there is no poetic justice in the real world.
More on the subject
Another documentary, Crime of the Century, which is available on HBO, deals with the subject of drug addiction. So does the miniseries Dopesick, for which Michael Keaton won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in limited or Anthology Series or Movie.
In a country like the US, which boasts of its superiority, the Sackler family still walks free even though they have caused pain to more than a million families. The series is based on the book Pain Killer: A Wonder Drug’s Trail of Addiction and Death by Barry Meier and a magazine article titled The Family That Built An Empire Of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe.
Each episode in the six-part series starts with a small message from families who had lost their loved ones due to addiction to this drug. Even though it highlights horrific addiction of the doctor-prescribed drug on patients, the thrill and drama keep the viewers hooked.
Uzo Aduba as Edie Flowers, investigator with the US Attorney office, delivered a class act. Edie, who finds work as a sole motivation in life, stumbles upon the over-prescription of OxyContin by chance, while investigating a doctor. She had her own share of struggles for her mother died due to drug abuse, while her brother serves jail time. All this help her foresee the consequences of this new, heavily marketed drug OxyContin.
Other cast members, including the villain of the series, Richard Sackler, played by Matthew Broderick, have given a flawless performance. Tapping into the greed of young, good-looking college pass-outs and making them sell ‘Oxy’ as some sort of pyramid scheme for cosmetics, the sins of Purdue Pharma go way deeper. So does the ignorance of people involved in marketing it to the doctors. On top of it, it uncovers the doctors who over-prescribed it.
The director, who has had his own experience with OxyContin and its addiction, has convincingly portrayed the after-effects of the drug on patients. In fact, Berg has some skills that help the audience teleport into the characters’ brains.
Be it the struggling patients high on OxyContin, personal dilemma faced by salesgirl Shannon Schaeffer (West Duchovny) or appearance of the ‘dead’ Arthur Sackler (uncle) as fragments of Richard’s imagination, all contribute to a jaw-dropping viewing experience. The non-linear narration of the series also makes it a tight watch with each scene contributing to something. Kudos to the editor Geofrey Hildrew (Once Upon A Time, The Devil You Know), as the series is seamless and delivers information with utmost clarity. It’s not the first time a series was made on Sacklers’ imposed crisis, but it sure has raised the creative bar and surpassed Emmy-nominated Dopesick (mini-series).
In times when binge-watching is the new way to educate and spread awareness, Painkiller has married reality and drama quite perfectly to create a ripple effect. In a pool of documentary, series and books on the subject, Painkiller is ‘the one to start with and the one to stay with’(as Sacklers’ used the words for marketing OxyContin).