LONDON: Prepared to be floored from the first shot of Netflix’s “Painkiller” – a six-part limited series depicting the story behind the rise of Purdue Pharma and its role in the US’ OxyContin epidemic.
The opening of each episode explains that, while certain events, dialog, and characters have been fictionalized for the show, this was (and remains) a very real crisis that affects very real people.
To that end, each instalment is introduced by the families of victims of the opioid crisis, explaining how the loss of their loved ones has impacted their lives since.
It is heavy stuff – but then this is a heavy subject.
Much like Disney/Hulu’s “Dopesick” in 2021, “Painkiller” picks apart the horrific true story behind the creation, aggressive marketing, criminal misinformation, and tragic impact of OxyContin on the US.
That the story is true – the opening caveats aside – only makes this show all the harder to watch.
Indeed, Netflix has wisely opted to base “Painkiller” on the shocking book of the same name by Barry Meier, and the New Yorker article “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe.
Matthew Broderick is Richard Sackler, the man at the top of Purdue, and Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black”) stars as Edie Flowers, a driven investigator working for the US Attorney.
An excellent supporting cast includes Clark Gregg as Richard’s dead uncle (appearing as a figment of his troubled imagination), Taylor Kitsch as an injured mechanic and early recipient of OxyContin, Saudi actress Dina Shihabi as glamorous drug rep Britt, and West Duchovny as an idealistic new sales rep who witnesses the horrific effects of the drug first hand.
While Broderick’s evil megalomaniac feels a little lacking in nuance, and Peter Berg’s direction relies a little too often on explanatory flashbacks, Aduba is simply mesmerizing as the investigative heart of the case against Purdue.
She flits from eloquent righteousness to dazzlingly passionate fury with staggering dexterity. It is impossible not to get swept up in her outrage, or to share in her appalled realizations.
“Painkiller” is a tough watch – but thanks to Aduba, and the horrifying fact that this really happened, it is an essential one.