‘Dopesick’ Review: Michael Keaton’s Hulu Series Exposes Big Pharma’s Wicked Ways

Director Barry Levinson all-star limited series shows the devastating effects of the opioid crisis in human terms  

dopesick michael keaton

There have been hundreds of documentaries, news stories and books about the opioid crisis, all detailing the general horrific data as well as the specific, life-altering and too often life-ending consequences of OxyContin addiction.

But it’s one thing to read about these stories and watch them play out with strangers; it’s another to see an all-star cast of your Hollywood favorites – the Batman Michael Keaton, firecracker “Justified” teen Kaitlyn Dever and even Rosario Dawson from “The Mandalorian” – portray the devastation, the completely preventable devastation, of Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin before your eyes.

“Dopesick,” written by Emmy and Golden Globe winner Danny Strong (based on Beth Macy’s 2018 bestseller of the same name), begins more than two decades ago, as Purdue exec Richard Sackler (Michael Stuhlbarg) tries to win the largely withheld approval of his family and add considerably more zeros behind the Sacklers’ net worth with an all-out marketing push of Purdue’s “miracle drug,” the pain-relieving opioid OxyContin. 

With a sales force tripled in size, and goodies like gas fill-ups, manis and pedis for overworked office staff, and luxury trips for the prescribing docs themselves, Purdue quickly grew Oxy into a billion-dollar drug with one simple (alleged) fact: less than 1% of Oxy patients would become addicted to the pills, which could make a pain sufferer’s life better in as little as 15 minutes. 

Using seemingly solid research, sincere young Purdue sales rep Billy (Will Poulter) wins over Samuel Finnix (Michael Keaton), a physician in a small coal-mining town who’s such a trusted figure in the community that his patients include multiple generations of families. Billy and Samuel bond over fried chicken lunches, and eventually it’s Dr. Finnix’s trust that begins to make Billy question how he’s earning a living. But that’s not before he helps kindly widower Finnix do a crushing amount of damage. Finnix’s commitment to his patients, many suffering chronic pain from years of grueling work in the mines, entices him to write more and more prescriptions for the miracle drug, until we see him years later, shaken and testifying about how many of his patients are dead.

By the time doctors like Finnix are cooperating with federal investigators Rick and Randy (Peter Sarsgaard and John Hoogenakker) and dogged DEA agent Bridget (Dawson), the Sacklers had long ago stacked the deck in their favor by hiring a former FDA medical review official into their company … after he allowed them to help write their own OxyContin warning label.

Across eight episodes, there is shock after shock, about how much was known and ignored (and for how long) about OxyContin’s deleterious effects. It’s a flood of information that might be a dry slog as a news presentation, but is both triggering and heartbreaking and unforgivable as it’s presented alongside examples of those who become OxyContin addicts.

The scene-stealing duo of “Dopesick” is Keaton as Dr. Finnix and Dever as Betsy, a patient whom he brought into the world as a baby and now treats as one of the town’s only female coal miners. Betsy’s got exciting plans that will disappoint her loving but conservative parents (Ray McKinnon and Mare Winningham) — and the fact that she entrusts her secret to Samuel makes him more determined to heal the painful injury she suffered in a mine accident.

Unfortunately, he looks to Billy for help in doing that.

“Dopesick” premieres October 13 on Hulu.