Editor’s Notes: Prescription Thugs is currently out in limited release and On Demand.
I’m still trying to fine-tune my own voice as a writer, but I strive to analyze objectively whilst still providing a personal application. This goes directly against what some of my journalism teachers and editors have told me (others have actually encouraged this behavior), but the fact of the matter is that film criticism dwells in the realm of personal opinion. Every review reflects the voice of a unique individual, and for that matter so does every movie. While it’s always great to see an expertly constructed film, it’s often more rewarding when the director’s voice shines through.
Director Chris Bell possesses such a remarkably confident and engagingly distinctive a voice that after viewing his latest film, Prescription Thugs, I was excited to seek out his other two directorial outings. His previous film, Trophy Kids, looked at parents who obsessively want their children to succeed in sports. In 2008, Bell kicked off his feature-length documentary career with Bigger Stronger Faster*, an examination of steroid use by athletes. Though I haven’t seen the latter two films, Prescription Thugs possesses a skilled, almost effortless blend of personal connection and detached, objective examination of the material at hand that it feels like a breath of fresh air amongst a slew of the more generic “talking heads” style of documentary filmmaking.
Prescription Thugs offers an unflinching, devastating look at the effects of prescription drug abuse told through the testimonies of people close to Bell, who lost his own brother to such an addiction.
Sports has always held an prominent place in Bell’s life, and Bell in turn has explored different sides of being in athlete throughout his filmography. Prescription Thugs offers an unflinching, devastating look at the effects of prescription drug abuse told through the testimonies of people close to Bell, who lost his own brother to such an addiction. Bell talks to his brothers friends, his parents, and in some of the film’s more shocking and heart-wrenching moments even turns the camera on himself.
If you go into Prescription Thugs expecting a heavily researched study that definitively pulls the curtain back on the world of prescription drugs, you will be sorely disappointed. That sort of thing has been done in other places such as Michael Moore’s Sicko. Bell, dressed in most scenes in athletic gear and a backwards hat, has an entirely different agenda. Bell is furious at Big Pharma for creating a world where doctors overprescribe medication, where advertising for every variety of medication lurks at every corner, where you can buy pills on Craigslist, where profit trumps all. It’s a system that harms unspeakable amounts of people each year, and ultimately harmed him and his loved ones. Bell converses with people who worked in various areas of the industry, and the fact that their statements aren’t shocking or revelatory in the slightest is made up for the fact that Bell edits them all together so well. Chris Bell’s voice shines through in every frame, making for an emotionally riveting experience.
Bell’s vision and talent behind the camera is most palpable and engaging when he moves from spouting out statistics about corrupt business practices and examines the devastating effects that prescription drugs can have on consumers and the ones close to them. These are the easily the best scenes in the film, with Bell’s personal connection to the material elevating the film beyond what could have easily come across a melodramatic local news segment. Bell wants answers, and he doesn’t shy away from conveying his internal conflict and own personal struggles. Like any artist, he’s still trying to perfect his own voice. While his final conclusion may be a tad generic, the material presented leading up to it remains incredibly hard to shake.
Prescription Thugs offers an unflinching look at the devastating effects of drug abuse, with Bell’s personal connection to the material elevating the film beyond what could have easily come across a melodramatic local news segment.