Prescription Thugs


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Prescription Thugs
"His film may be a little cluttered and unwieldy but its personal slant has an intensity."

Ever since Michael Moore took on the health insurance industry in 2007's Sicko, aspects of US healthcare and the big pharmaceutical corporations have come under repeated documentary scrutiny from the likes of Fire In The Blood and Oxyana. This latest salvo from Bigger, Faster, Stronger documentarian Chris Bell, gives the subject an intensely personal twist as the director sets his sights on the use and abuse of prescription drugs.

Bell uses a mix of quirky archive film footage - from Nixon's announcement of drugs as "Public Enemy No.1" to illustrative segments such as a shot of the warehouse in Raiders Of The Lost Ark - to help push home his very serious points in a more light-hearted way, interlinking them with stark information, such as the fact that although representing just five per cent of the world's population, Americans consume a whopping 75 per cent of its prescription drugs.

Overlying it all, at least initially, is the very personal story of Bell's brother Mike "Maddog" Bell, a WWE journeyman who featured in Bigger, Stronger, Faster and who, through injury in the ring, gradually became hooked on prescription drugs. Bell exposes the way in which drugs dished out by doctors have become part of the cultural fabric of the US - not least because the country is one of only two in the world where they can be advertised freely on TV. He also examines the twin issues of them being viewed as "safe to take" and the way in which one drug can become a gateway to another. For example, is your painkiller affecting your libido? Then why not take something for erectile dysfunction too? But, Bell asks, shouldn't the fact that both these drugs may well made by the same manufacturer give you some cause for concern?

The documentarian is taking on a lot here, trying to cover everything from the way that drugs are sold to the American public down to examining the way that the acceptance of everyday prescription drug taking has led it to become normalised in society in ways that don't take into account the risks associated with things such as a painkiller regimen and which may also be having a trickle-down effect on the younger generation. Inevitably, because Bell is covering such a lot of ground, some of the information feels hastily conveyed and he definitely sacrifices depth in favour of trying to give an overview of the issue as he sees it.

Where his film really hits home, however, is in the personal testimony he has researched. From the former drugs rep who speaks passionately about the death of her niece and why she blames pharamaceutical companies for it, to the parent who admits he almost didn't see his son's dangerous addiction until it was too late because he was grappling with drug dependency of his own, each story puts a human face on the figures. Bell's family are also integral to the film, which helps him to present some disturbing facts about medications in a way that doesn't feel preachy. His film may be a little cluttered and unwieldy but its personal slant has an intensity that is likely to make audiences think about the implications of twisting off a safety cap.

Reviewed on: 19 Apr 2015
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A personal consideration of the impact of prescription drugs on US society.

Director: Chris Bell

Writer: Josh Alexander

Year: 2015

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: US


Tribeca 2015

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