Producers: Jeremy M. Rosen, John Swab, Robert Ogden Barnum and Oliver Ridge Director: John Swab Screenplay: John Swab Cast: Jack Kilmer, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jessica Rothe, Melissa Leo, Alice Englert, Peter Greene, Owen Campbell, Thomas Dekker, Sam Quartin and Frank Grillo Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
More educational than exciting, John Swab’s picture, about a drug addict who becomes part of an addiction treatment scam designed to bilk millions from insurance companies and the government, is too flatly rendered to provoke much interest, let alone outrage.
Utah (a curiously bland Jack Kilmer) is a fundamentally decent Ohio guy who’s gotten hooked on heroin and robs convenience stores with hopped-up girlfriend Opal (Alice Englert) to support their habit. But he’s tired of the grind, and so when they’re approached by Wood (Michael Kenneth Williams), a smooth-talking guy ostensibly concerned about their well-being, Utah jumps at the chance to fly to California and register at a clinic for treatment. Opal rejects the offer and stays behind.
As we’re told in narration by Vin (Frank Grillo), the owner of the clinic (and a string of others like it), the operation is a scheme to take advantage of provisions in the Affordable Care Act requiring coverage for substance-abuse treatment. The clinics will charge as much as possible for their services, which include months of post-stay observation, and then wait for their clients to return after they fall back on drugs afterward. (The rate of recidivism, after all, is close of 90%.)
But since beds have to be filled for the profits to keep flowing, Vin uses people like Wood—supposedly “cured” clients—to go into the field and sign up new ones. Wood sees potential in Utah, who’s already been clued in to how lucrative the business of recruiting can be from another patient, hyper Sid (Owen Campbell). He jumps at the offer to join Wood on the road.
For a while things seem to go well, business-wise. Financially Utah prospers, though he’s still sensitive enough to, at least sometimes, feel pangs of regret at signing people up who are clearly not serious about recovery. He’s also taken aback when Wood shows himself still to be using—and offers him the chance to do the same.
His perspective shifts even more when Vin orders him and Wood to expand the operation to include delivering customers to a sleazy doctor (Peter Greene) for assembly-line implant operations. That ultimately leads to a death, and to Utah’s forced departure from the scene just as he’s developing a relationship with May (Jessica Rothe), a former junkie who encourages him to join her at a twelve-step meeting—a technique that, it’s pointed out, has a higher success rate than expensive clinics and costs nothing. In the end, though, it’s doubtful whether Utah will be able to resist the old urges
The film closes, in fact, not with a bang but a whimper, re-enforcing the poor recidivism rate of the sort of treatment mills that Vin runs and advertises with television ads designed to appeal to concerned parents. It’s a sobering message, but one that’s not coupled with drama of much heft.
In the end “Body Brokers” comes across as an extended version of the sort of monitory film that might be produced for school classes. It features some solid performers—Williams, Melissa Leo as a clinic doctor, the always intense Grillo—but most of the cast is just fair, including Kilmer. The same is true of the tech work from cinematographer Matt Clegg, production designer Jose Cavazos and editor John David Allen. Christopher Keating’s score is equally unexceptional.
“Body Brokers” tries hard to be a powerful exposé of a seamy business, but doesn’t have the requisite urgency and anger to pull it off.