by Tony Medley
Run time 99 minutes.
Not for children.
Based on a true story,
co-director (with his brother Adam) Mark Kassen co-stars with Chris
Evans in this thriller as personal-injury attorneys trying to take on
the health care industry to crusade for safer hypodermic needles. From a
good script by Chris Lopata and a story by Paul Danziger and Ela Thier,
the title comes from an ER nurse, Vicki (Vinessa Shaw), who receives a
deadly puncture from an HIV-infected needle at the beginning of the
Vicki goes to Attorneys Mark
Weiss (Evans) and Paul Danziger (Kassen) to get them to help her friend,
Marshall Bell, who has invented "Safety Point" syringes, to get them
into 2,000 hospitals to protect health care workers from what happened
to Vicki. They find that a corrupt "Group Purchasing Organization"
(GPO), which purchases supplies for lots of hospitals, keeps good,
innovative new products from being purchased because it might cause
their major suppliers to lose a lucrative market. They are quickly
thrust into a huge antitrust case and find themselves over their
Danziger wants to drop the
case but Weiss insists they continue. As they proceed, what happens is
familiar to anybody who has ever had any connection with litigation and
There is a lot of nudity and
pervasive drug use, but that's a part of the plot since Weiss is a
serious addict. Other than his crusade on behalf of safe needles, he has
virtually no redeeming personal values as his wife has left him and he
spends most of his off time in the company of prostitutes. Evans gives a
compelling performance as this lowlife, drug-addled lawyer facing
enormous odds fighting the good fight.
The film paints a startlingly
frank picture of the corruption of the American system of civil justice.
There is a particularly effective scene in which Evans is trying to get
an obviously corrupt judge to allow discovery to get evidence of the bad
Highlighting the indictment of
the civil justice system is the performance of Brett Cullen as Nathaniel
Price, the enormously wealthy, smooth, smarmy, well-connected, defense
attorney. Price epitomizes the legal system at its worst. Supremely
confident, he overwhelms the two protagonists and controls the
litigation until the very end. Cullen deserves a Best Supporting Actor
Oscar® nomination for his portrayal.
This movie isn't just about a
corrupt system of civil justice. It's main point is akin to the
muckracking work of Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens at the turn of the
20th Century. This movie can introduce millions to what's going on with
GPOs negotiate contacts for
tens of billions of dollars annually for thousands of hospital. Despite
its title, in a 1986 law (the Medicare antikickback law) Congress allows
GPOs to receive a fortune in kickbacks in return for which their
suppliers receive preferential, exclusive treatment by the buyers. In
virtually every other industry, the type of arrangement would be
criminal. This means that doctors and nurses have no say in what
supplies are purchased. Those decisions are totally in the hands of the
That's bad, but even worse is
that a report by Navigant Consulting showed that these kickbacks
increase annual healthcare costs by almost $40 billion, including almost
$20 billion in federal outlays (taxpayer money) for Medicare and
This movie is not only an
entertaining thriller, it's an eye-opener in more ways than one.