In the realm of cinematic storytelling, characters often serve as vessels for the broader narrative, representing a blend of creative imagination and the subtle influence of real-life figures. “Pain Hustlers,” a Netflix crime drama loosely inspired by the Insys Therapeutics controversy surrounding the sale of Subsys, introduces us to Liza, a character whose complexities mirror the remarkable journey of real-life individual, Sunrise Lee.
Liza, portrayed in the movie, is a character that embodies the struggles and motivations of several real-life people but particularly mirrors the remarkable arc of Sunrise Lee. Much like Liza, Sunrise’s life took a significant turn when she was scouted by Alec Burlakoff, Insys VP of Sales, in 2012 to become a sales representative for the pharmaceutical company. Although her children were healthy, Sunrise was driven by the need to provide for them and was on the cusp of enrolling in Michigan State University, requiring substantial funds for her education.
The film poignantly captures the moment when Sunrise Lee’s life changed, with Burlakoff offering her a job, emphasizing that “dancers were the best salespeople.” This decision to join Insys echoes the narrative in the movie when Pete Brenner significantly alters Liza’s CV, amplifying her qualifications to include a “PhD” to secure her position.
Much like her fictional counterpart, Sunrise Lee’s journey in the pharmaceutical world was meteoric. Within weeks, she ascended the corporate ladder and assumed the role of a sales manager. However, the ascent to professional success was overshadowed by the dark shadow of illegal practices within Insys. The film aligns with reality as both the character Liza and Sunrise Lee faced convictions on racketeering charges, a consequence of an investigation into Insys’ unethical practices.
In the real world, Sunrise Lee served eight months of her one-year-and-a-day sentence in a Kentucky federal prison before her release on January 14, 2022. Following her time behind bars, she embarked on a path of personal reform, determined to build a brighter future for herself and her children.
The story of Sunrise Lee, who shares similarities with Liza’s character in the film, serves as a testament to resilience, transformation, and the strength of the human spirit. While Liza’s character is a fictional creation, it reflects the real-life challenges and triumphs of individuals who found themselves entangled in the pharmaceutical industry’s web of deception and ethical breaches.
“Pain Hustlers” not only entertains and intrigues but also pays homage to the indomitable human spirit, highlighting the possibility of redemption and the capacity to rebuild one’s life after confronting the consequences of unethical choices. Through Liza and the real-life journey of Sunrise Lee, the film reminds us that even in the darkest moments, there is potential for rebirth and the pursuit of a better future.