Body Brokers, 2021.
Written and Directed by John Swab.
Starring Jack Kilmer, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jessica Rothe, Alice Englert, Peter Greene, Owen Campbell, Thomas Dekker, Sam Quartin, Frank Grillo, and Melissa Leo.
Brought to Los Angeles for treatment, a recovering junkie soon learns that the rehab center is not about helping people, but a cover for a multi-billion-dollar fraud operation that enlists addicts to recruit other addicts.
As common as films about drug abuse can be (there’s another one opening next week and who knows how many for the rest of the year), Body Brokers at least has a unique angle to it in that it’s more concerned with the pyramid scheme operation the rehabilitation centers are running rather than watching a protagonist trying to overcome addiction or meet their demise. Of course, that doesn’t mean the movie will be good, but it’s a good place to start.
From the moment the distressing depictions of addiction are interrupted for snarky narrations pointing out how the treatment centers profit, it’s clear that writer and director John Swab was a fan of The Big Short. And in his defense, that’s still not a bad way to go with a rehab narrative. The issue (something that was also true with his effort last year Run with the Hunted) is that the filmmaker wants to tell both stories but in doing so never finds a rhythm or any real emotional engagement, fumbling the entire purpose.
Jack Kilmer is Utah, a junkie convinced to join one of these rehab centers based on the kindness of Michael Kenneth Williams’ Wood, who as we quickly come to find out has ulterior motives. Some opening text tells us that only 10% of people that attend these rehab facilities actually stay clean and overcome their addictions, which is something by design as the film goes through the inner workings at play demonstrating how it’s a system designed to get people coming back for another 90-day stint. These individuals are not necessarily seen as people but as a commodity for making money.
Utah’s girlfriend Opal (Alice Englert) is not interested in the proposition, choosing to stay behind content living life as a drug addict robbing gas stations. The point here is to show that these characters are damned if they do and damned if they don’t, with Body Brokers mainly focusing on Utah. He’s a good vessel for the larger story at play with Jack Kilmer actually giving a good performance, but the narrative also flies through his initial battle with drug addiction to get to the meat of the story where he becomes entrenched in the business of finding junkies to make money off of, meaning there is not a fully drawn character there and some of the connections he makes with others are barely formed while wasting the talents of other actors. There’s a romantic subplot here with the Jessica Rothe playing a staff member at the treatment facility, and it’s somewhat criminal how little she is given to do, especially considering she is supposed to be Utah’s savior and one of the biggest contributions to his sobriety.
Still, the biggest failing here is the lack of confidence and outrage when it comes to condemning the system. Body Brokers is not so much a movie trying to ape The Big Short but one that seems to have started that way from a conceptual standpoint with only a few scenes like that left in the end product. I can only assume even John Swab knew this wasn’t working. There’s a story worth telling here and it’s filled with serviceable actors doing good work, but it’s a mess narratively.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com