Review by Sean Boelman
The Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short ushered in a new era of true crime films with a comedic sense of self-awareness, but so many of these subsequent attempts have felt like imitations. John Swab’s Body Brokers certainly falls into that category, a passable but mostly mediocre movie that clearly wants to be more than it is.
The film follows a recovering junkie who gets wrapped up in a lucrative scheme in which companies profit off of fraud in the rehab industry. It’s an interesting stranger-than-fiction set-up, but in trying to make the story friendly for the Hollywood formula, Swab isn’t able to do anything particularly thought-provoking with the concept.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the movie is that the pacing is extremely uneven. The first forty-five minutes are presented as an earnest drug recovery drama, only for it to turn into a sleek thriller for the remaining hour. It’s a significant case of tonal whiplash that would have been settled had the film settled into its schlockiness earlier.
The things that the movie has to say about the opioid epidemic are pretty eye-opening. However, it often feels as if these messages are at the service of entertainment and not the other way around. Although there are a lot of harrowing facts and figures thrown out, they are almost always overshadowed by the film’s performative tendencies.
Another one of the movie’s shortcomings is in its character development. Although we are clearly rooting for the protagonist to get better, all of the supporting players that he encounters along the way are abhorrent. And perhaps most frustratingly, there is a narrator character whose role in the story isn’t introduced until the midway point.
Jack Kilmer is definitely the standout as the lead of the film. His performance offers the only thing resembling nuance in the entire thing. Michael Kenneth Green is probably the best supporting player, giving a performance that is enjoyably sly. Others, including Jessica Rothe, Frank Grillo, and Melissa Leo are underused.
There are also some really strong scenes in the movie from a technical standpoint. Admittedly, the film can’t really decide whether it wants to be gritty or stylish, but there are a couple good examples of each to be found. The energetic montages in the second half are especially effective and fun to watch.
Body Brokers may pale in comparison to the much better movies that obviously influenced it, but there are enough good moments to make it worth the rental fee. With a few more rounds of revisions, this had the potential to be something better.
Body Brokers hits VOD on February 19.