DIRECTED BY: John Swab
STARRING: Jack Kilmer, Michael Kenneth Williams, Frank Grillo, Alice Englert, Jessica Rothe, Peter Greene, Melissa Leo, Thomas Dekker, Sam Quartin, Renée Willett and Pam Dougherty
Brought to Los Angeles for treatment, a recovering junkie soon learns that the rehab centre is not about helping people, but a cover for a multi-billion-dollar fraud operation that enlists addicts to recruit other addicts.
Utah and his girlfriend Opal, are drug addicts living on the streets in rural Ohio. After getting recruited by body broker Wood, and offered treatment in Los Angeles, Wood takes Utah under his wing and introduces him to treatment centre mogul Vin. Wood and Vin bring Utah in on their lucrative and illegal dealings, where saving lives comes second to the bottom line.
Body Brokers is a crime thriller written and directed by John Swab, that tells the story of a multi-billion dollar fraud on the healthcare system, where drug addicts and dealers become millionaires overnight. For Utah, a recovering addict, meeting Vin would change his life forever. As he embraces sobriety, he soon learns that this business of treatment is not so clean. Now he knows its money-making secret, he wants in. Corporate greed bends a knee to remarkable minds who took extraordinary lengths to make a quick buck but ended up some of the richest men in America.
The film starts by focusing on Utah and Opal, two junkies living on the streets in a small town of Ohio, robbing local convenience stories and taking on prostitution in order to fund their drugs of choice: primarily heroin. One day however on a bench a stranger by the name of Wood offers them lunch, forever changing the course of their lives by offering them help into a treatment program. While Opal brazenly dismisses the offer and Wood, Utah however is thinking maybe he’s reached his bottom and takes on his help and is placed into a treatment program at a rehab centre in Los Angeles. With the help of counsellor Dr. White. aide May at rehab, and visits from Wood, Utah is clean for at least a month…and is slowly lured into Wood’s world and shows Utah how the rehab industry is the new get rich quick scheme in town. The film tackles an interesting subject matter in the form of corruption within the rehab industry, with narration at certain moments breaking down the details of the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and how the system has been manipulated, particularly in the Southern California area as people suffering from addiction are taken to their centres to take up a space that they can bill the insurance on. The numbers are striking, with some private rehab centres pulling in $72m a year if they max out their patients in beds/staying per ninety days, and the film explains it all clearly and with Utah acting as the audiences eyes and ears to how the system is manipulated through Wood and is fellow team of ‘body brokers’.
While the film has this really interesting story to tell, it just doesn’t quite have the impact I was hoping for, as the film rather touches on the corrupt system, while the majority of the focus is on Utah being seduced into being on the other side of the fence, working alongside Wood and putting addicts back into the system by giving them a cut of their earnings. Jack Kilmer gives a good performance as the rather timid Utah, who definitely has smarts but can see how he could be easily swayed into Wood’s lifestyle. Michael Kenneth Williams is, for me, the highlight of the film and in terms of feature roles for the veteran character actor, this is arguably his best work to date as a addict-turned-body broker who who lives and profits from this exploited system and there are moments where you can’t tell whether he is being genuine to Utah that he’s a friend or just another body to help expand and profit from the system. Jessica Rothe as May has a few scenes here alongside Jack Kilmer and I thought they had good chemistry together, I just wish there were more scenes involving Rothe. Melissa Leo also appears but only briefly in a few scenes, as she and Rothe’s characters both work at New West Recovery and show the side of the rehab industry that’s there to genuinely care for the health and wellbeing of those looking to get clean, particularly in one scene where May has Utah attend a twelve-step meeting that is really well handled. As for Frank Grillo, who is in some key art for the film and has a substantial role you believe he’s in the period for a good portion of it and…nope, he’s also in it for a few scenes as well, but I did enjoy his performance as Vin. Alice Englert also gives a good performance as Opal, though her character is rather sidelined once Utah comes out of repeat, other than to be brought back as a reminder to Utah to where he could be right now if he hadn’t gone clean. There’s also a rather small but good performance from Peter Greene (an actor I haven’t seen for a long time but anytime he appears on screen you feel his presence as he sinks into the role) as Dr. Riner, a rather shady individual who works for Vin and Wood in another dodgy operation involving addicts.
I could definitely see this kind of story being expanded upon down the line as a television series, maybe focusing on Wood and Vin in particular and Wood’s team of body brokers.
Body Brokers has the cast and the story elements to make for a compelling dramatic thriller, but it focuses just too much on Utah’s journey rather than exploring more about the system being exploited that it just feels like squandered potential.