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‘Pharma Bro’ review: Potentially interesting documentary gets in its own way

Once upon a time in Shaolin.

Pharma Bro tries to examine the life of Martin Shkreli. Once dubbed “the most hated man in America”, the entrepreneur rose the price of a life saving prescription drug 5500% and purchased a Wu-Tang Clan single for $2 million before being sent to jail for securities fraud. His most recent claim was he would find a cure for COVID-19. The documentary is an attempt to look deeper into the man and his motivations.

The key word for the film is “attempt”. Documentarian Brent Hodge is never able to flesh out his subject as much as he would like to. For one thing, Shkreli has no interest in being interviewed. This means Pharma Bro seems to tiptoe around much of what happened in order to gain trust and an interview. For example, Shkreli’s rationale for price gouging is “everybody does it” complete with unsubstantiated facts that go unchecked.

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Pharma Bro also interviews people who come to Shkreli’s defense. While it would be interesting to hear a different point of view, the subjects here do not say anything that will make audiences rethink popular opinion. Former girlfriends who were awed by Shkreli’s fame are given a chance to speak in a choice that sounds inspired, but ends up adding little. It is during these moments that it seems like less exploration and more justification.

The documentary is better when it focuses on the trial that ends with prison time for the businessman. It is in these moments that Pharma Bro is able to provide the more in depth look it is aiming for. It is interesting to see how Shkrelii’s success may have been as much about luck as any financial acumen of his own. It is unfortunate the rest of the film plays it so safe

Pharma Bro comes to digital platforms October 5

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