Review: Side Effects

Side Effects is rumoured to be the last film made by the man behind Ocean’s Eleven, Steven Soderbergh. The cinematic genius Soderbergh leaves us in a state of confusion after we watch this movie – unsure as to whether he should put down the ‘cut’ clapboard just yet.

Side Effects is a provocative thriller centered around the story of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) and her investment banker husband Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum). The plot begins after the couple’s fall from monetary grace, when Martin is released from four years in prison as a result of fraudulent dealings (“insider trading”).

The movie is a neo-noir thriller set in the world of psycho-pharmacology in New York City. The audience gradually discover that several of the successful characters throughout the movie are battling with anxiety/depression. Emily is one of these and a self-inflicted near-death accident leads her to meet ambitious, young Manhattan psychiatrist, Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).

A seemingly distraught Emily agrees to see Dr Banks about her severe depression and he tries her on a series of prescription drugs until one drug, ‘Ablixa’, works wonders for her, seeing her mood and energy boost. However, the trial medication comes with a high price for Emily – extreme unexpected side effects.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star (Rooney) upholds composure and is compelling in her role as the fooled yet fooling leading character. Emily acts as a medicinal guinea pig for Dr Banks while he remains conceited and fundamentally interested in pursuing the big bucks as he is lured into drug trials by the pharmaceutical industry.

It is difficult to pinpoint the motives of over-ambitious Dr Banks as he becomes obsessive in seeking the truth as the movie goes on, assuming that he is part of the solution, not the problem. This is also questioned with the emergence of Emily’s past shrink Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and the association that Dr Banks maintains with her until the end of the movie.

Fans of the 2011 movie Limitless will really enjoy this gripping yet disturbing thriller. Mysterious and dramatic like Limitless, the stress of the city that never sleeps seems to encompass inhabitants, allowing them to become reliant on drugs that will help “improve who you are” not “change who you are”, as reiterated by character Dr Banks in the movie.

Several unexpected twists emerge in the plot near the end of the movie which will leave the audience thinking about the characters and also the relativity of the plot, as it provides an insight into the devious schemes of money-making in the medical world. Women who adore Soderbergh’s Magic Mike will however be disappointed to know Channing Tatum keeps his clothes on for the most part in this move.

Side Effects is a dramatic thriller that will engage the mind and leave you thinking about the issue it exposes – the severity of addiction to prescription drugs in the United States.

As it stands today, prescription drug abuse is one of the biggest drug problems facing the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has even officially declared that prescription drug abuse in the United States is an epidemic. However, with many prescription drug abuse treatment facilities and programs already in place, there is still hope that this problem will not become any worse.


3/5 stars

Catriona Hughes

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