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Side Effects

20 Mar

Director: Stephen Soderbergh (2013)

SideEffects2013PosterThere is nothing more terrifying than reading the side effects on new medication. Written on the thinnest paper, intricately folded into the tiny box with origamic precision to ensure they can include all the reported side effects. Hair loss, hair gain, decreased sex drive, weight loss, weight gain, depression… It’s better to avoid them at all costs. But in a country where health care comes at a cost, the pharmaceutical industry becomes a dangerous beast when, just like our medication, doctors can also be bought.

Allegedly Soderbergh’s last film, Side Effects delivers a terrifying insight into the American disease of big pharma in the mould of a post-Hitchcockian psychological thriller. But unlike the legally required notes in your medicine, to reveal the plots and surprises of the film would be a sincerely unwanted side effect of this review.

Emily (Rooney Mara) eagerly awaits the return of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) as he is finally released from prison following a four year stint for insider trading. But after a surprise run-in with a wall in her car, Emily is soon diagnosed with depression and agrees to start seeing a psychiatrist, Jonathan Bands (Jude Law). When other drugs fail to work, Jonathan contacts Emily’s old psychiatrist, Victoria (Catherine Zeta Jones) who suggests a new drug, Ablixa that might help Emily regain control of her spiralling life and help her enjoy life with her newly returned husband.

Bringing up often overlooked themes of mental illness and violence alongside notions of guilt and who should hold the blame when pharma goes wrong, Side Effects is an eye opener into the corruption and dangers of a society obsessed with pharmaceutical fixes. Last seen in Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, Channing Tatum functions as a (shirtless) catalyst to jumpstart the film, illuminating the struggles of Emily to feel excitement that her husband is finally returned. And shirtless. Yet she feels nothing. Rooney Mara is a quiet terror as the troubled Emily while Jude Law’s unwinding Jonathon drives the film as the plot twists and strangles around him.

Like a trip you can’t – and don’t want to – escape, Side Effects is an unrelenting thriller double, possibly triple, bluffing its way into the mind and definitions of ‘madness’ and beyond. If this really is Soderbergh’s last film, to continue the drug metaphors, we are truly going out on a high.

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