Movies

Review: Documentary ‘Drug$' takes aim at Big Pharma

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U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore in the documentary “Drug$.”
(©2018 Foxhound Productions)

Side effects from watching the anti-Pharma documentary “Drug$” start with rage, and pretty much stay there through the call-your-congressperson coda. A blistering takedown of a venal healthcare system that prizes corporate profit over saving lives, Jonathan Marshall Thompson’s film, featuring interviews with insiders, experts and crusading politicians like U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), and gravely narrated by J.K. Simmons, revolves around a central question increasingly asked by patients paying exorbitant drug prices: is staying alive worth the cost?

Famously excoriated, price-jacking drug CEO Martin Shkreli is only one villain in a crisis of capitalism that sees the U.S. spending hundreds of billions of dollars on overpriced pharmaceuticals so companies can hold on to patents by gaming the system, perpetuate a myth of research and development costs (public funding typically buys the scientific work on breakthroughs), lobby Congress against consumer laws, pay doctors to shill for their products, and buy all those culturally ubiquitous “call your doctor” ads.

One of the movie’s more fascinating tidbits: the long list of side effects on those commercials, initially dictated as a rule of being allowed to advertise on television? The companies discovered that the stated risks make you trust their product more. One viewing of the brisk, slick, well-reasoned “Drug$,” however, is likely to erode your trust in the notion that Big Pharma has your well-being at heart.

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‘Drug$’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 18 minutes

Playing: Starts Dec. 14, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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