PAINKILLER on Netflix is a new series. A crime series that mixes true crime with fiction. On several occasions, it feels like an absolute horror story. There are six episodes and it is a tough, but important, watch. Read our full Painkiller series review here!
PAINKILLER is a new Netflix series in six parts. Each episode shows the crazy escalation of greed and abuse in a brutal symbiosis. It’s a crime drama series that is based on the very true story (and true crimes) of Big Pharma. Specifically, those who dominated the escalation of the opioid epidemic in the US.
An absolutely stellar cast leads us through events that start out as positive and innocent. However, as we all know by now, it has resulted in death and pain for so many. Each of the six episodes draws on your heartstrings in different ways before it turns into a real-life horror story. We’ve watched all six episodes for this review.
Continue reading our Painkiller series review below. Find the series on Netflix from August 10, 2023.
How did we get to this?
Painkiller might be a “fictionalized retelling”, but the opioid crisis is very real. Also, the stories in this mini-series are based on facts. True stories and very real facts are at the core of everything. The dialogue has been created (as have some characters), but everything is based on facts.
And, let me tell you, there isn’t a horror movie more scary than this very real story. Seeing how people knowingly create a problem and never back down. A drug is approved though it is way too dangerous and powerful to be prescribed for virtually any minor ache or pain.
As a drug for terminal patients or those undergoing deep pain, it could be good. Used for virtually everything, it’s the recipe for disaster. It is precisely the latter we see happening in Painkiller where it escalated at a brutal pace.
It is the origin and aftermath of the opioid crisis, where accountability of the systems that fail, is a focal point as well. If you don’t get angry watching this, then I don’t know what it will take.
So many brilliant performances
It’s difficult to single out anyone in a series like Painkiller where everyone is bringing their absolute A-game. And yet, there are three that stand out for me.
As the head of the family (and the CEO of Purdue) at the time of the opioid epidemic, we have the very real Richard Sackler. He is portrayed by Matthew Broderick in the most amazing way. You may think of Matthew Broderick as a charming Ferris Bueller, but in Painkiller he is as cold as ice.
It’s all about money and power – always with him as the winner.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Edie Flowers, who dedicates her life to fighting the Sackler family to get Purdue (and Oxycontin, specifically) away from the American public. Edie Flowers is portrayed by Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black), who delivers a heartbreaking – or heart-shattering, really – performance.
I’d want Edie Flowers (as portrayed by Uzo Aduba) in my corner. Anytime and every time!
Finally, as the tragic example of someone who gets hooked on Oxycontin, we see the mechanic Glen Kryger. He goes from being the poster child for the wonders of Oxy to a straight-up addict. Just like many others. As Glen Kryger, we see Taylor Kitsch (season 2 of True Detective) deliver yet another intense and brilliant portrayal.
Before every episode, relatives of people who have died from the opioid epidemic (and Oxycontin, in particular) share their stories briefly. The further into the mini-series you get, the more you recognize that the story of Glen is symptomatic of all their stories.
As a bonus, I also found Dina Shihabi and West Duchovny to be amazing. They’re both portraying women, who get the doctors to prescribe the drug. Extremely important characters in the story and, as portrayed by Dina Shihabi and West Duchovny, also very direct portrayals of what this takes.
Watch the Painkiller mini-series on Netflix
The new Netflix series is based on the book “Pain Killer” by Barry Meier, and the New Yorker Magazine article “The Family That Built the Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe. Peter Berg is the director of all six episodes and also has a small role (or cameo, if you will) as a car salesman in a later episode.
And yes, this is a definite attack on the Sackler family. Or rather, it’s just sharing the facts, so it isn’t as much of an attack as it is exposing their crimes against humanity.
The series is executive produced by Eric Newman (The Watcher), series director Peter Berg, Alex Gibney (The Innocence Files), and showrunners/creators Micah Fitzerman-Blue & Noah Harpster. You’ll also be seeing creator Noah Harpster in the series. He plays a key character working at the FDA. The doctor who was responsible for the approval of Oxy.
The point of this Netflix mini-series is undoubtedly to tell the stories of victims and to hold the perpetrators accountable. When it comes to the opioid crisis, there are many perpetrators. Unfortunately, far too many of them are able to slip under the radar and avoid the public eye. Well, not in Painkiller and I applaud this mini-series for that.
All six episodes of the Painkiller mini-series can be found on Netflix from August 10, 2023.
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Uzo Aduba, Matthew Broderick, Taylor Kitsch, Dina Shihabi, West Duchovny, John Rothman, Clark Gregg, Jack Mulhern, Sam Anderson, Ana Cruz Kayne, Brian Markinson, Noah Harpster, John Ales, Johnny Sneed, Tyler Ritter
The causes and consequences of America’s opioid epidemic unfold in this drama following its perpetrators, victims and an investigator seeking the truth.