Review : Side Effects (2013)
"One pill can change your life"
Released (UK) 8th March 2013, Rated 15. Runtime: 106 minutes (1 hours, 46 minutes).
Official Synopsis: A young woman's world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.
Blue Corner Review, by Pete
Added March 16th, 2013
Steven Soderbergh is a Director I generally have a lot of time for. That’s not to imply that I feel that each of his films are a hit by any stretch of the imagination, but he tends to tackle an impressively varied range of genres (see our own takes of three of his previous films – Contagion, Magic Mike & Haywire) rather than sticking with the tried and tested, and I generally like the way he shoots. Mix Jude Law into the equation – someone who tends to consistently pick movies I’ve found to be good, even if it does seem to be almost unfashionable of me to like him – who Soderbergh also worked with on the interesting yet flawed Contagion, and you’ve got my interest.
Rooney Mara plays Emily – wife of the imprisoned former financial trader Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum). Upon his release from his four years inside, it is clear that his arrest for insider trading has destroyed both their finances and former lifestyle, whilst their attempts at rekindling their relationship have faltered – after an attempt to take her own life by driving her car straight into a wall, Emily is forced into seeing a psychiatrist regarding her depression. Enter Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).
Due to a raft of financial obligations, Banks juggles his day job as psychiatrist at a private firm with shifts at the local hospital where he first meets Emily. On top of this he also takes on lucrative consulting work for a large pharmaceutical company, trialling their latest drug with some of his own patients. After repeat visits from his latest patient it becomes apparently that Emily is suffering from side effects common with the medication that she has been receiving. Having seen numerous adverts for the latest ‘wonder drug’ Ablixa, Emily requests that she also gets to try it; after conferring with Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) – the psychiatrist who treated her initial depression when her husband was first imprisoned – Banks eventually relents and signs her up to this new anti-depressant. Ablixa, it seems, also comes with side effects of its own for Emily, causing nausea and sleep walking, although she stresses that she wishes to remain on the drug given that it is helping with her primary symptoms – a further drug medley is prescribed accordingly to counter these further issues.
After Emily herself is arrested for the murder of her husband whilst in her sleep, a plea-bargain is reached thanks to her recorded problems, keeping her out of prison but confined to a mental hospital whilst Banks attempts to clear his own name. Did his excessive workload result in a poorly judged decision that led to this, or by giving evidence in her trial does he implicate both himself and destroy the reputation of Ablixa? Having been involved in her defence, Banks quickly looks to be the main culprit, either as a result of negligence or financial greed. As his world is turned upside down, losing his practice, his well-paid consulting work and eventually his partner thanks to concerted efforts to frame and discredit him further, it becomes clear that this is not simply down to a mistake or bad judgement, but a mission to destroy him in order to ensure that Emily is clearly shown to have been wronged. As we are to find later, this is simply business rather than being personal – in order for the vast quantity of Ablixa rival shares held to rise sufficiently, the value of Ablixa stock has to be brought crashing down as a result of this murder being pinned on the supposed wonder drug, but sadly for Banks he keeps pushing to further his own enquiries.
Law and Mara both impressed in their respective roles, excelling in showing very contrasting sides to their fairly complex characters as they transform over the course of the film. Banks is very much the central character, being both sympathetic and charismatic, and Law is engaging enough keep us interested during his own slide into paranoia as his battle with both this decisions and his crumbling life takes its toll. Conversely, Emily switches from the fragile, helpless girl we are first introduced to, becoming the ice cold woman who knows exactly what she is going, being reminiscent of Edward Norton’s Aaron from Primal Fear. Tatum and Zeta-Jones do their jobs in the supporting roles, although really neither have too much to do in the grand scheme of things here.
Side Effects certainly covers some ground that typically wouldn’t be featured in the more mainstream movies – primarily the financial side of Big Pharma – although it doesn’t aim to preach to the viewer. At the core this is a film about money over morals, but rather than being about the polemics between Big Pharma and the people, as suggested by the first half, the story is twisted from the questionable motivation of some when it comes to the overly liberal prescription of big-money drugs into a deceit and double-crossing conspiracy tale peppered with a touch of Hollywood noir. Throughout, a genuine sense of anxiety and paranoia is portrayed by the characters, whilst the ennui of Emily is subtly aided by both the muted colours and slightly off-focus shots. I did have a gripe with the murder of Martin – having demonstrated the supposed sleepwalking for his benefit and support, there felt little need for Emily to carry on with her act after having repeatedly knifed her husband. Yes, she needed to walk through to the bedroom and get into bed to leave a believable trail for the Police, but for me the scene should have stopped once the Martin hit the floor, rather than showing her ‘sleepwalking’ casually into bed whilst Tatum’s character bled out on the floor. Relatively speaking, a minor quibble.
Effective, stylish and engaging, this was one of the better misdirection thrillers that I have seen in some time, even if I would have preferred a less ‘definite’ ending, or one with a less positive note along the lines of Primal Fear. With a lot of the film (commendably) having left the viewer to make their own decisions regarding character motivation and morals, rather than spoon feeding us every step of the way, it seems Soderbergh was so intent on tying up every last loose end with the final scenes that it sadly undercuts the earlier work somewhat. Rumoured to be his final big-screen outing as Director, having apparently declared that he wants to devote his life to painting, if this does prove to be true and there’s no temptation back into the hot seat in future (in fairness, it seems that JJ Abrams is going to be making every movie from now anyway), it’s a good movie to go out on. We can only hope that this decision is a double bluff itself.