John Swab’s latest feature film titled Body Brokers is Dallas Buyers Club turned inside out meets Pretty Dirty Things. This film lays everything out about addiction and recovery and has undertones of Darren Aronofsky’s classic drug movie Requiem for a Dream and has a touch of Sid & Nancy. John is a writer slash director from Tulsa, Oklahoma who now lives in Upstate New York. I catch up with him on the phone while he’s back in Tulsa, again, prepping another feature he won’t say very much about, after having just finished post-production on Ida Red, a feature starring vehicle for Melissa Leo, who plays an addiction counselor in Body Brokers.
John says it’s best to use where you’re from to start a filmmaking career, stating that production value in his home town of Tulsa is invaluable. Body Brokers was made there, with twenty-percent of it filmed in Los Angeles.
You hear “indie movie about drug addicts”, you might think “oh, here we go again”, but Body Brokers is not your typical druggie flick. It’s a key inside look about how scammers profiteer from keeping people in recovery on a different kind of hamster wheel than just using. It’s ‘“better business” to have people never kick their habits and have them coming back into recovery. Body Brokers gives us an astute look into medical billing, insurance and other systems that may appear to benefit society, but yet do not at all. You’re given a front-row seat on the pyramid scheme that has addicts recruiting other addicts into these for-profit recovery centers, getting kick-backs. Matt Clegg’s cinematography is perfect for the story. It’s “gritty” and examining.
The film’s story is based on John’s own life, as a recovering drug addict who was “brokered” and who “did some brokering”. John’s partner, Sam Quartin, who also appears in the film is also in recovery. He says she’s a good influence on him. The two met while making a short film and became good friends on the set of his feature Let Me Make You a Martyr.
The events that happen in the film are taken from first-hand accounts of time John’s spent in drug rehabilitation centers. He says it’s his responsibility to tell this true story and his responsibility to also make it entertaining at the same time. Films he emulates that do both are ones like Thank You for Smoking, The Big Short, and Vice, among others- “movies that tackle complex issues, but make it fun to learn”.
Body Brokers stars Jack Kilmer as “Utah”. And yes- in some shots you’ll notice that he looks and acts a lot like his father Val. It’s very easy to follow and empathize with this young person who desperately wants to change and have a better life. Utah is sincere in his hopes and goals. He makes friends easily and resists relapsing several times. Utah goes into recovery leaving behind his old girlfriend (“Opal” played by Alice Englert) who prefers to stay in a life of using drugs and committing the crimes to support her habit. She decides to start a relationship with another guy after Utah goes out of state to a rehab center in California and then winds up there to “hide-out” when a crime goes wrong.
This film has you worrying about Utah and the influences around him. Michael Kenneth Williams is brilliant as the character “Wood”, who’s a body broker who takes Utah under his wing. They form a mentor/mentee, almost father/son relationship and become business partners. We see why it makes sense for Utah, after we learn about his family history. You know Williams from Lovecraft Country and Boardwalk Empire, and other popular television shows. Peter Greene (Pulp Fiction) is a grim Dr. Riner who is part of Wood and Utah’s brokering of people to undergo implant surgery (devices that go under the abdomen) for their drug addictions. Jessica Rothe rounds out the cast as an employee named “May” at the treatment center where Utah is first brokered. May herself is a recovering addict on the mend who is further along than most- with her full-time administrative job, performing intake on addicts. She has a soft spot for Utah. Frank Grillo is the mastermind of the whole body-brokering operation and will not stop at much to be number one, especially when he’s faced with Wood doing business with a competitor.
The one disappointing thing about Body Brokers is that we don’t get enough Melissa Leo, but that’s alright because John’s next feature is a neo-Western flick called Ida Red and will center Leo as a middle-aged criminal. This movie was also filmed in Tulsa and includes Josh Hartnett in the cast. John says influences for his upcoming projects are 1970s movies like Thief, The Getaway, Friends of Eddie Coyle, Michael Mann films and those of Antoine Fuqua.
After Ida Red, John will team up again with producer Jeremy M. Rosen for yet another “neo-Western”, details of which John is keeping a tight lip. He says we’ll all “know about it soon enough”...
Body Brokers is available on Digital and On Demand on February 19, 2021.