Review by Sean Boelman
Brendan Fitzgerald’s documentary The Oxy Kingpins is executive produced by Adam McKay, and there is no mistaking that fact. Playing out like one of McKay’s slick explorations of white collar crime, this is the type of ruthlessly entertaining doc that is sure to set the internet ablaze when it releases.
The film explores how a network of drug manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are responsible for creating and perpetuating the opioid crisis in America. Admittedly, the idea of making a true crime doc out of the suffering of millions of people is a bit morally questionable, but Fitzgerald does address what makes this crisis so devastating.
Fitzgerald takes a really aggressive stance towards exposing Big Pharma and the movie is all the better for it. Audiences are likely aware of how fundamentally capitalism is tied to the identity of America, but this film really shows just how much the greater good can be sacrificed for the sake of greed and making money.
Perhaps the most interesting portion of the movie is an interview with a former drug dealer who made a lucrative living off of the opioid trade before deciding that he wanted to go legit. He offers a no-holds-barred insider perspective on the crisis that shows just how much this issue is being covered up.
If there is one thing missing from the film, it is the perspective of the victims of the opioid epidemic. Although the movie does feature one subject who was an addict, her portion is much smaller than those about the dealers, pharmacies, and drug companies. For better or worse, Fitzgerald aims for the big picture rather than the small and intimate stories.
At an hour and twenty minutes, the film is trying to do a lot in a short period of time, and it can’t do it all. However, the movie is undeniably captivating, and Fitzgerald is able to communicate his message in a way that is impactful nevertheless. It goes down surprisingly easy for a film that deals with a topic so difficult.
Fitzgerald brings a very good momentum and energy to his movie, which is particularly impressive given that this is his first feature. While it feels like it was made in a particular style, it still never feels like a carbon copy of anything else. Its sleek production values will allow it to hook audiences easily.
The Oxy Kingpins is a very good documentary, and while it could have been a tad more empathetic, it’s still mostly effective with its message. It wouldn’t be surprising to see executive producer Adam McKay making a narrative film about this topic in the future.
The Oxy Kingpins is screening as a part of the online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 16-20.