Pharma Bro displays very little interest in its subject matter past a passively objective observation of Shkreli
Pharma Bro (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on February 4, 2022
Rating 1 /5
Martin Shkreli became the most hated man in America and for good reason. In 2015, he purchased the rights to the antiparasitic drug Daraprim used against AIDS and raised the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill. As if that weren’t enough, he purchased the right to a Wu-Tang Clan album he refused to release (even using it as a coaster) and was also brought to court for multiple counts of securities fraud, for which he was found guilty and had to serve prison time. He didn’t even attempt to put a spin on any of this. He adored being the villain for all the attention he was given.
The documentary Pharma Bro, however, doesn’t just document his rise and fall. Rather, it wants to focus on the very nature of Shkreli and how he loved the attention he was given. In doing so, however, the film loses focus by shifting less of the story on Martin and more about how much America loves bad guys. So many blindspots occur within this misguided documentary for favoring such a take.
For starters, the film seems more interested in Martin as a character than the damage he is causing. Yes, his raising of drug prices highlights a hideous nature of capitalism that prolongs pain and suffering in America. But why did Martin do such a thing and laugh about it? The short answer is because he can and the American system incentivizes such behavior and business practices. If you got all the money, you can do whatever you want. The film, however, doesn’t want us to see Martin this way.
This documentary tries and fails to dig deeper by attempting to diagnose the motives Martin. The movie opens by showcasing various comic book villains and trying to understand the mindset that comes with them. This is a major problem because it treats Shkreli as though he were an anomaly. It’s as if he was some unfortunate soul who rose up from nothing and got carried away from his wealth. He is not unique. There are plenty of despicable businessmen who commit similar actions of both horrid profitings off of society’s woes and treating people like garbage. Yet the many talking heads want to stress that Martin is either playing a character or that he is on the autism spectrum. None of this excuses his actions and the fact that these aspects are used as excuses for his behavior is disgusting.
The talking heads for this type of film are baffling. Amateur rapper Billy The Fridge stresses that being a troll is the best way to make a living and that we all just end up doing it. We also get an interview with professional rap artist Ghostface Killah who doesn’t seem to want to talk about Martin Shkreli at all, making the audience question why he was even interviewed at all. One of the most pointless interviews is with noted alt-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos who does little more than talk about how much fun it is to be the bad guy. A little tidbit that isn’t noted about Milo, most likely because this was filmed before his massive fall from grace, is that he lost a book deal because his writing was terrible, lost a ton of money for not being a bigger political player, renounced his homosexuality, treats his husband more as a housemate, and now advocates for conversion therapy. Little facts like that would go along to way to note how being a troll for the sake of money and attention is a doomed prospect.
Pharma Bro displays very little interest in its subject matter past a passively objective observation of Shkreli. It had the chance to be something more unique about how the Overton window on business practices and human decency have shifted greatly but instead favors just highlighting trolls without condemning them. There’s a very telling moment when a stage actor who plays Martin for a satirical play notes that what they’re doing on stage is exactly what Martin wants. Indeed, this documentary is also what Martin wants. And rather than question this attention being praised to him or how it creates a damaging motive for cruelty in publicity, the film merely accepts that this is the nature of the world. The crowning touch on this terrible documentary would be if the director ended with the picture with a call to action to like and subscribe.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.