Body Brokers is a crime thriller with a strong social message. The movie is about a pair of junkies named Utah (Jack Kilmer) and Opal (Alice Englert). After a chance encounter with a man named Wood (Michael Kenneth Williams) the two enter rehab. Utah soon learns that there is a lot of money to be made in saving people’s lives.
Movies about drug addiction are filled with a sense of hopelessness. Part of the appeal is watching the struggle to change their lives. Body Brokers has an element of this, but the film is more like The Big Short than Rush. It is odd at first, but it works. Body Brokers uses narration to build the crime thriller aspect of the story. This would seem to take away from the treatment portions of the film, but it never does. The narrator provides facts that add emotion to the plot. After seeing people broken down to dollars it adds a layer that is frustrating and heartbreaking.
The story does an excellent job of showing the problems with drug treatment. While the narration bluntly explains what is happening, there are more subtle moments between the patients that show the cracks in the system. There is a great moment when Body Brokers coyly demonstrates how addiction is not being helped but replaced with a new addiction. It is great writing.
The story really picks up about an hour in. Wood takes Utah to a call center that places addicts in treatment. From there, Body Brokers shows the depths of the problem. Wood and Utah work out an elaborate scheme that takes advantage of addicts and the health care system. It is in these moments that the film is most frightening.
This is also when the film starts to lose its way. At this point, the plot wavers between themes of addiction and corruption. Body Brokers loses all of its emotion in cliched montages and anticlimactic reveals. Body Brokers is bolstered by strong performances. Williams shines as the capitalistic Wood. He has a natural charisma that makes it important not to watch him. Owen Campbell also stands out in a small supporting role.
Taking on a number of major themes in a movie can be very difficult. A crime thriller that also deals with drug addiction and medical fraud is a lot for one story to take on. Body Brokers slips along the way, but tells an interesting story. It is filled with strong performances and its look into the drug rehab system in California is eye opening.
Body Brokers releases in theaters and on Digital and On Demand on February 19, 2021.
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