Prescribed Illness: Our Review of ‘Dopesick’

Posted in Disney +, What's Streaming? by - November 12, 2021
Prescribed Illness: Our Review of ‘Dopesick’

Finally arriving north of the border, after debuting in the US last month via Hulu, the star-studded mini series Dopesick debuts on Disney+ via its Disney+ Day celebration on Nov 12, 2021. The limited series examines the story behind and the devastating after-effects of the real-life launch of OxyContin by Purdue Pharma. It shows different aspects from multiple stories and angles of what is ultimately a dangerous drug when doctors incorrectly prescribe it, being marketed as a non-addictive drug with miraculous results.

Dopesick shows the launch of OxyContin from its creation by Richard Sackler (Michael Stuhlbarg), the patriarch of the family owns Purdue Pharma. They launched the drug as a means of following up on their drug Oxycodone with the premise that it would be a measured dose released over a 12-hour span and thus not be as addictive as it predecessor. This is ultimately not the case as it quickly becomes the most sought-after and most addictive painkiller on the market. The story then also spools out over 3 other perspectives. We meet Dr. Samuel Finnix (Michael Keaton), a small-town doctor working in a mining community. Drawing him into OxyContin is Purdue sales rep Billy Culter (Will Poulter). Billy convinces Richard to start prescribing the drug to his patients as well take part in trips and seminars put on by Purdue to expand their sales market.

We branch off from both Dr. Finnix and Billy as we explore their worlds too. We see the patients put on Oxy by Dr. Finnix, including young female mine worker Betsy Mallum (Kaitlyn Dever). We are also taken into the pitch and hype meetings of the sales rep with Billy, including his ultra-aggressive would-be love interest Amber (Phillipa Soo). And on top of all that we follow a pair of prosecutors (Peter Sarsgaard, John Hoogenakker) as they attempt to build their case against Purdue with the help of  US Attorney John Brownlee (Jake McDorman) and DEA agent Bridget Meyer (Rosario Dawson) who had run into a dead-end with her investigation years prior.

As you can tell by the elongated series description, there’s a lot of stories to unpack in this series, with a lot of different angles approaching it. The series utilizes time jumps to develop the individual stories at the same pacing. This will definitely require an investment from its audience. If you aren’t paying attention you could easily get lost at first. But in the middle of the second episode though you should be acclimated to each time period enough and its characters to follow along easily. As per this review, we have been allotted the first 3 episodes to watch.

The story really starts to engulf the audience as the performances suck them in. Everyone is firing on all cylinders here as Dopesick is an acting tour de force. Starting with Stuhlbarg who nails the eccentricities of Richard Sackler completely to the everyman relatability of Keaton’s Dr. Finnix, a wonderfully understated performance that glues the entire season together. Poulter is excellent as well. After all, he’s playing a man trapped between his conscience and his desire to succeed so much that he allows himself to be more gullible than he should.

And Kaitlyn Dever continues to prove that she may be the most talented actor of this next generation as she delivers another heart-wrenching and scene-stealing performance, reminiscent of her turn in 2019’s Unbelievable. On top of all that, you also get solid performances from the rest of the cast to round out the project, including a potential star-making turn for Phillipa Soo.

Based on the book by Beth Macy, the series was created and mainly written by veteran TV writer and actor Danny Strong (yes, the same Danny Strong from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gilmore Girls) and you can tell the experience right away with its sharp scripting and depth juggling of all the aspects of the story. Even with all the medical jargon and vast amount of information being downloaded to the viewer, Strong manages to keep the pacing brisk and engaging, which also allows the actors’ work to shine through. This is the next series that you’ll want to burrow right through every episode in as little sittings as possible. But be forewarned, Disney will only be releasing 1 episode a week after its 2 episode premiere.

Audiences beware. With the strong writing, acting, and direction on display, along with an already fascinating true story as its basis, Dopesick could very easily become your next binging obsession. I know I certainly can’t wait for episode 4!

This post was written by
"Kirk Haviland is an entertainment industry veteran of over 20 years- starting very young in the exhibition/retail sector before moving into criticism, writing with many websites through the years and ultimately into festival work dealing in programming/presenting and acquisitions. He works tirelessly in the world of Canadian Independent Genre Film - but is also a keen viewer of cinema from all corners of the globe (with a big soft spot for Asian cinema!)
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