Written by: Adam Vaughn | February 18th, 2021
Body Brokers (John Swab, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
When I first took a look at the concept for Body Brokers, my mind was instantly filled with the expectation of a frenetic film exploring the real-life story of the multi-billion-dollar drug-treatment phenomenon that followed the establishment of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Much of the tone of the trailer and various press materials screamed The Wolf of Wall Street-like intensity, promising a fully engaging story with surprises and comedic, possibly even dramatic, twists and turns. Sadly, Body Brokers abandons this potential almost immediately, and as the film goes on, it becomes hard to tell what tone director John Swab (Run with the Hunted) intends, even though he otherwise delivers a truly original and appealing premise.
Body Brokers tells the story of drug-addicted couple Utah (Jack Kilmer, The Nice Guys) and Opal (Alice Englert, Beautiful Creatures), who are approached one day by Wood (Michael Kenneth Williams, Arkansas), ostensibly a member of a healthcare system that treats drug addicts for free. A reluctant Utah soon finds himself deeply invested in the scheme, which soon takes illegal and violent turns. Just as Utah’s life seems to make a turn for the better, however, Opal’s life heads down the hazardous road of addiction.
The real paradox with Body Brokers is that director Swab chooses to keep various sequences of the film intimately focused on Utah and Opal’s contradicting journeys, which in and of itself becomes incredibly interesting and holds the most emotional weight of the film, particularly with Kilmer and Englert’s on-point performances. Almost immediately after we engage with the two protagonists’ journey, however, Swab then swaps back to a Goodfellas-style pacing, and the film proceeds to waver between a soft, intimate tone and a satirical, exaggerated tone, never truly sticking to one unified feel.
Nonetheless, Body Brokers truly takes on a hot topic for today’s healthcare-hungry society, exploring a unique new concept and giving it a sense of grandiose escapism that is extremely effective. With visually stunning production design, particularly in the sterile atmosphere surrounding the treatment centers themselves, and a few scenes with genuine tension, Body Brokers successfully takes us down Utah’s journey from junkie to millionaire (and back again), profiling a real American tragedy. All the while, it also comments on the American healthcare system and the dangers that loom within it. While never really choosing which concept to fully focus on, director Swab still manages to balance both ideas to an adequate degree.