Pharma Bro: A Tilted, Yet Compelling Portrait of a Disgraced Douchebag
There might be bigger douchebags than Martin Shkreli walking around the planet, but you might have better luck finding a needle in a haystack. Also, don’t tell Ghostface Killah.
Those are two of the big takeaways from director Brent Hodge’s newly released documentary ‘Pharma Bro.’
The film details Hodge’s long game in getting to find out if there was more to Shkreli than the public persona he put forward. Those efforts included calling Shkreli’s cell phone during one of his infamous livestreams, moving into the same apartment building, and later delivering a sixer during one of the aforementioned livestreams.
And the conclusion? Muddy, at best.
Martin Shkreli depicted as a villainous character in fictional 'Pharma Bro' comic book.
On one side you’ve got “Team Shkreli,” which includes purportedly notable rapper Billy the Fridge, Shkreli’s distant Albanian family members, crime reporter turned biographer turned love interest Christie Smythe, fellow punchable face Milo Yiannopoulos, and one of Marty’s defense attorneys.
“Team Rest of the World” includes Wu Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah, a female journalist that was harassed by Shkreli and his fans, and a slew of doctors and patients that detailed issues in getting the life-saving drug Daraprim after Shkreli raised the price from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill overnight.
First, the good things about ‘Pharma Bro.’
Many people know who Shkreli is, but they forget that while his actions on Daraprim were reprehensible, they’re not illegal. This highlights a glaring loophole in drug pricing that still hasn’t been closed, meaning other companies could do the same thing. Hodge and his interviewees also remind the viewer that Shkreli isn’t in prison for anything to do with his time in pharmaceuticals, but rather for running a Ponzi scheme.
That’s it. Those are the good things I found.
Throughout the rest of the movie, you hear from an ex-girlfriend and his “proud” distant relatives; you see him smirking during a Congressional hearing on drug prices; you see him taunting people on his livestreams; bragging about buying the 1 of 1 copy of Wu Tang Clan’s concept album ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin;’ telling a talk show crowd that his only regret about Daraprim was that he didn’t raise the price higher; and bragging about not going to prison … before going to prison.
But what you never see is Shkreli being anything other than the detestable persona he put in the public eye. There’s not even a hint of remorse, no attempt at being an actual human being. Smythe, Fridge, and Yiannopoulos basically write it off as “Martin being Martin,” while acknowledging (along with basically everyone else) that he’s basically an acquired taste.
And it seems Hodge drank the Kool-Aid.
You can see he tries to tell a balanced story about the “Most Hated Man in America,” but it appears that somewhere along the line Shkreli won him over and the story skews more toward he’s “misunderstood,” rather than an unredeemable soul. That may very well be the case, but he and the pro-Shkreli clan don’t offer anything other than opinion to support that notion, while the other side has demonstrable facts to show they could actually be the ones who are correct. (It’s also a blast listening to Ghostface Killah talk about what would happen if the two crossed paths again.)
Hodge is a very technically proficient and compelling storyteller, and he’s created a film that you can’t turn away from. Hell, if you hadn’t paid attention to the events as they unfolded, you could probably be swayed to take his side. But for the rest of us, it’s simply a reminder of a broken system and its poster boy.
★★★★ of ★★★★★