Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Side Effects

I was in America recently and thought it would be a good opportunity to see a movie which won’t be out here in the UK for a while. Unfortunately I was there at a rare time during which there was little in US theatres which wouldn’t be in the UK by the time I got home. So instead I saw Side Effects, a film I hadn’t had a chance to see in England. Side Effects is said to be the final movie by Director Steven Soderbergh, the man behind films such as Erin Brokovich, Solaris and Contagion. Although not a huge fan of his entire back catalogue I think losing Soderbergh to film making would be a shame. He has produced some very fine films over the years with Side Effects being one of them.

We join the story days before Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) is released from a four year prison sentence for insider trading. His wife Emily (Rooney Mara) is eagerly but nervously awaiting his release. In the days following his return, her mood shifts towards anxiety and depression and when she drives her car straight into a wall she begins to see Psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Banks tries various methods and drugs before discovering the new drug Ablixa seems to control Emily’s moods. The drug gives her the side effect of sleep walking though, a side effect which turns out to have disastrous consequences for Martin, Emily and Dr Banks. The event destroys Banks’ career and while trying to clear his name he discovers a deeper, seedier plot.

As with a lot of my reviews recently I am writing this long after seeing this movie and unlike the others I saw while on holiday, I made no notes so the following may be rambling, forgetful and ill informed. The first thing I’ll mention is the trailer. I’ll be honest, it didn’t really do anything for me but each time I saw it I laughed my head off at the ending. The voiceover announces “Academy Award winner Catherine Zeta-Jones. Academy Award nominee Jude Law. Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara and ….. Channing Tatum”. The “and Channing Tatum” line was one of the funniest I’ve heard all year in the cinema. Not being a huge fan of the hat wearing potato man, this line tickled me each time I saw it.

On to the film though. I enjoyed Side Effects a lot. For me it was a tense and edgy thriller which had a decent story, some great acting and a couple of nice and unexpected twists. Rooney Mara’s performance is compelling and drives the film while Jude Law gives an excellent performance as a man desperate to clear his name. The visual style is appealing and the fact that the movie is set in places I’d visited that very day only added to my excitement. The locations and interiors are elegant and plush and help to give a sense of the money involved in pharmaceuticals. I really liked what the film had to say about big pharmaceutical companies and also about America’s seemingly never ending medicated spiral. I think that the UK and US have differing attitudes towards drugs. Whereas here drugs are generally used as a last resort, in the US it appears that drugs are used immediately and then more drugs are used to combat the side effects of the originals, then more to combat the side effects of the secondary drugs and so on. This causes problems which are played out on screen here.

The film suggests that the prevalence of mood altering drugs is a problem and that a line needs to be drawn as to when someone is accountable for their actions when they are being influenced by a cocktail of various uppers, downers and 3 acrossers. I think the movie also does a good job when looking at the valuable and confidential time which patients and doctors share. I personally see a lot of Hitchcock in this movie and it feels like the spiritual successor to his work. I have no doubt that this is the sort of script that would have appealed to Hitch and Soderbergh does a fine job with the bluffs, double bluffs and half reveals. It could be argued that the film becomes a little far fetched towards the end but by that time I had already gone with what had come before and was happy to continue soaking up what the film had to offer. Overall Side Effects is a film that I enjoyed a great deal and as a Friday night thriller, I have little to fault it.    

GFR 7/10 


  • Soderbergh considered casting Lindsay Lohan in the lead role and had her audition three times but thought that her continuing legal issues would disrupt production.
  • Blake Lively was originally cast but was subsequently replaced by Rooney Mara.
  • The film states that Dr Banks received his medical degree from Durham University. Durham doesn't have a medical school.      


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