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While films such as Traffic and Sicario focused on the supply side of the US war on drugs, John Swab’s third feature takes on the demand part of the equation. An expletive-spattered prologue fills us in on how the Obamacare act’s obligation for healthcare-providers to cover drug-abuse treatment created a market for recovery facilities worth $12bn a year in southern California alone. Swab then zeroes in on pasty Ohio junkie Utah (Jack Kilmer), plucked from heroin deadendsville and offered free rehab on the west coast by Wood (Michael Kenneth Williams), a broker acting on behalf of treatment centres to find addicts whose stay will be funded by insurance companies.
After completing the programme, Utah graduates to becoming an apprentice to Wood and quickly realises the size of the fraud at hand. Wood hauls in patients at scale by offering them a cut of the insurance money; the system has no incentive to see them permanently recover because relapsing addicts mean repeat business. Wood also runs the same ploy on subcutaneous implants that inhibit opiate addiction, delivering a stream of punters worth $60,000 each to a local surgeon. The cynicism and human collateral of it all makes it the narco-industrial complex’s version of sub-prime.
Emblazoned with mouthy Big Short-style info-dumps, and with a phone-selling scene reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street, Body Brokers outwardly seems to be aiming for high Scorsesian amoral operatics. But given the originality of Swab’s take, it’s a shame he couldn’t find the film a more appropriate style: at heart it is a more sober film intent on declaring its outrage.
Kilmer, son of actors Val and Joanne Whalley, is a little bland in the ingenue role, not really digging into the sense that something malignant squirms beneath: not just substance dependency but also American addiction to capitalism – as hinted at by two uses of Public Image Ltd’s Rise on the soundtrack, with its cry that “anger is an energy”. But the Mephistophelean Wood is a great role for Williams; another man running game on the system, like his Omar from The Wire, but the moral compass long since pawned off.
• Released on 8 March on digital platforms.
Source: The Guardian
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