Think of any movie you’ve seen where you know the identity of the killer from the very start. While the cat is out of the bag, it’s the tension of the people you watch on the screen not knowing what’s in store for them that keeps you watching. You want to scream at them, “Don’t go in there!” or “Don’t go with him!” and you just have to sit there and watch people suffer their fate.
The tension and terror only grows when the story is true. In Dopesick, we are made to relive the beginning of the opioid crisis as the Sackler Family and Purdue Pharma release Oxycontin, selling it as a miracle drug. Their claims included that this was the least addictive narcotic in existence.
In watching the film, you begin to see how doctors are sold on the drug, the motivations behind ever prescribing it and the manipulation that many underwent to feel like they were not only saving their patients, but ushering in a new era of pain treatment in the world as scientific pioneers.
“… you are immersed in the subject and time slows around you.”
The mini-series is based on Beth Macy’s non-fictional book, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America. It was created by Danny Strong (Lee Daniels’: The Butler, Hunger Games: Mockingjay). Strong also directs the final episode of the series. Legendary director, Barry Levinson (Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man), helmed the first two episodes.
Dopesick stars the venerable Michael Keaton (Batman, Beetlejuice) as Dr. Samuel Finnix, a small town doctor in the small town epicentre of the opioid crisis. We follow him as he treats patients in a mining town where pain is an everyday occurrence, until a sales rep from Purdue comes knocking and sells him on their newest creation.
There is a lot of time jumping in this series, moving ahead in time to the trials against Purdue and further back in time to gain a little backstory of our cast of characters. Other actors include Peter Sarsgaard (Jarhead, The Batman) playing Prosecutor Rick Mountcastle, Will Poulter (We’re The Millers, The Mazerunner) as Purdue Pharma Sales Rep. Billy Cutler and Rosario Dawson (Rent, The Mandalorian) as DEA Agent Bridget. There are also appearances by Meyer, Cleopatra Coleman (The Last Man on Earth), Ray McKinnon (The Blind Side), Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) and Mare Winningham (American Horror Story).
“The performances in Dopesick are stellar on all counts.”
The performances in Dopesick are stellar on all counts. We’ll put this in the column “Give Michael Keaton all the awards.” He has simply been on a tear of good choices combined with excellent performances since he came back into the world’s focus with Birdman. His performance in this is also interesting, as he infamously played Richard Sackler, the man behind the opioid crisis, in an episode of Last Week Tonight: With John Oliver, where they did a deep dive on the family.
Sarsgaard turns in his usual great performance that tends to be understated in a way that takes the focus off of him, but always deserves more attention than he receives. Will Poulter, being given a real chance to play with some heavy hitters leading up to his role as Adam Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3, doesn’t disappoint as you see his journey in the series. Rosario Dawson keeps getting chances to show us her range in terms of the characters she plays and continues to hit it out of the park.
Dopesick is anything but a miracle cure for people looking for a little joy and escape in their entertainment. The subject matter is hard to handle at times, often making the episodes feel longer than their usual one hour (give or take a few minutes) run time. It’s not that the episodes drag on, though. It’s more like you are immersed in the subject and time slows around you.
It’s hard, in the difficult times we’ve all lived in for the last couple of years, to sit and subject yourself to something so sad, frustrating and downright heartbreaking. Though, I dare say it’s worth devoting your time to this if for no other reason, to try and wrap your head around how something like this could happen. Dopesick, whose first three episodes launched on Hulu in early October, is due for all seven episodes to be released on November 12, including on Disney+, who will also carry the mini-series.