By now, it’s been brought to the surface that the United States is facing a serious opioid addiction epidemic. The obtainability of drugs that can lead some to heroin or other street drugs is shocking, the addiction rate is disturbing, and the flaws that exist when it comes to treating addicts are staggering. While there are a multitude of amazing documentaries that target the issue, there are very seldom action-packed movies that try to mix fact with fiction and advocate for change.
Body Brokers follows Utah, a young heroin addict in southern California who seeks treatment and winds up employed by a group of rehab body brokers. While initially wanting to patch up his own life and start anew, he finds that with his new line of work, he is instead tearing apart the lives of others for profit. What ensues is a large unraveling of the injustices that come with body brokering and corrupt rehabilitation centers.
First things first, a quick explanation of body brokering. Placing addicts with good insurance coverage into rehab centers for periods of time essentially pays body brokers. Unethical treatment centers pay individuals who send them addicts with good insurance, and the profit can add up quickly, as this film explains. The film also demonstrates other ways brokers make money by using addicts, but we’ll leave it at that for the purpose of this review.
John Swab is a very busy director and writer. This is Swab’s fourth film that he has both written and directed, and he has three more in pre or post-production. Based on his resume, it seems that the director gravitates to the thriller or action category, and his knowledge of these genres shows through in this picture. Above anything, Swab deserves serious recognition for even attempting to craft a film that centers around such a depressing, life-altering issue, and shed light on how very real and serious it is to so many. It would be amazing to see if Swab manages to write and direct more films centered on real-life issues that blend well with fictional storytelling.
Jack Kilmer plays Utah in this film: a very troubled, very misunderstood, very disturbing role. Kilmer does a great job at taking all of these character traits and immersing them into his performance throughout. The young actor seems to display a wide array of emotions with ease, which does not go unnoticed with his performance.
Actor Michael Kenneth Williams delivers a dark, disturbing performance with his character, Wood. Taking on the task of portraying someone who is a seasoned body broker is clearly a heavy one. Williams gives off a very unsettling, creepy vibe throughout which meshes well with the film in its entirety. Throughout the film, audiences are never quite sure what to think of Williams, which is a testament to his portrayal of a terrifying man in a shady business.
Actress Jessica Rothe is the true talent of this film. She portrays May, a rehabilitation center worker and former addict. Her portrayal brings a grounded, human aspect to the film. While we mostly see addicts or villain-type characters on screen, May is a breath of fresh air, and Rothe does a wonderful job of making audiences fall in love with her in this film. Rothe also maintains natural chemistry with co-star Jack Kilmer that keeps viewers attention on screen during each minute they work together.
Unfortunately, there is more than one moment where the film feels cheesy. This happens when the narrator kicks in with some questionable dialogue. However, if you truly listen and dissect this narration, you uncover the true value of it. The narration throughout is what tries to unmask the horrors of crooked drug rehabilitation centers and the people who take advantage of a system meant to heal. So while it may feel contrived or cringy, it has the potential to pack a powerful punch and opens audience’s eyes.
If there is one thing I wish for this film, it lies within the characters in it. If there had been more characters outside of the dark body brokering business, or if loved ones of drug addicts had been shown, it would have driven home the dark and important point much further. Having May be the only character with an obvious soul and warm composure to her might not have been the wisest choice by Swab. If the movie gave us the chance to see the stark difference between non-addicts and the dark cloud that hangs above addicts and the corrupt beings that control them, it may have had a more lasting effect.
Despite its flaws, Body Brokers attempts to use all of the elements that Hollywood has at its disposal (famous actors, millions of dollars for production value, special effects) for good, and that means something. The best part of the picture is its message, which sticks with you long after its finished. In a world where some avoid documentaries and only watch fictional, action-packed movies that can transport them to somewhere other than their reality, this film is important. It mixes edge-of-your-seat action with a fictional story while promoting change and justice for millions who suffer at the hands of drugs.
If you’d like to see Body Brokers and form your own opinions, feel free to check it out on digital and on demand beginning February 19, 2021. If you find yourself wanting to educate yourself further on the opioid addiction crisis, a great documentary on the issue is Coming Clean by Ondi Timoner (reviewed here).