Side Effects (2013) (film review).
Steven Soderbergh directs a script by Scott Z. Burns, giving us a suspenseful story set in the world of medicine and high-profile prescription drugs. When a doctor prescribes a new drug, is he responsible for the side effects? Jude Law stars as Jonathan a psychiatrist with a cozy relationship with a drug company and who prescribes a drug that may not behave as expected in a surprisingly complex medical thriller.
Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10.
[Spoiler Warning: I think I have avoided spoilers, but the less you know about the film before seeing it, the better.]
The pharmaceutical industry has come to be dominated by a handful of giant corporations making large profits. One has only to visit a doctor’s office to see that pens, clipboards and wall decorations all seem to carry advertising for high-profile drugs and that is just a miniscule fraction of what the drug companies spend to woo doctors and to get them to prescribe their product. There is a lot of money to be made in and around big Pharma and that rarified atmosphere is some of what ‘Side Effects’ is about.
In this world we have Emily Taylor (played by Rooney Mara), a 28 year-old woman hospitalised after attempting suicide. Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) is a psychiatrist, assigned by the state to care for Emily and her depression may be exacerbated by her husband’s release from prison. Martin (Channing Tatum) spent four years behind bars for insider trading. Now he is out, only to find his wife is imprisoned by her own mental state. Jonathan meets with Victoria (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Emily’s previous psychiatrist, to discuss the case. Victoria suggests a new experimental drug, Ablixia, and suggests that Jonathan try it on Emily. After another suicide attempt by Emily, Jonathan agrees but the side effects of Ablixia may make the cure worse than the disease. What follows is a complex maze of a story that calls for careful scrutiny from the viewer to completely appreciate what is happening. Director Steven Soderbergh directs this labyrinth created by Scott Z. Burns, who also wrote Soderbergh’s excellent CONTAGION.
At one point, Jonathan’s wife asks him about a patient who is accused of committing a crime while on a behaviour-altering drug. Did that person do it? Is that person guilty? Jonathan responds that those are two very different questions. That is one of the major issues of the film. Drugs change who we are. If a person has his personality temporarily altered under the influence of a drug, is that person still guilty? Can one punish someone who existed for just a few hours and now is no more?
Rooney Mara is not yet a familiar name to most viewers, but she plays or will play the complex and physically strenuous role of Lisbeth Salinger in the US version of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ films. Here, she more than holds her own against box-office stars Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Soderbergh directs from a script by Scott Z. Burns. Soderbergh has said that following this film and one other made for HBO, he will be taking a ‘sabbatical’ from film-making and will be exploring his talent as a painter.
It has been suggested that this is the sort of film that Alfred Hitchcock might be making if he or someone of his talents were around today. Actually, it might be closer to one of Brian De Palma’s efforts. At the end of my review, I have to say, ironically, that this is a film to be seen rather than one to be read about. There are more holes in the plot than a Hitchcock would leave, but ‘Side Effects’ seems to have a sort of De Palma flamboyance.
I rate it a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. I could raise that rating on future viewings since there is a lot to take in here.
Mark R. Leeper
© Mark R. Leeper 2013