Side Effects

19 Aug

side effects



Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Stars: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law

Motion picture rating: R

Runtime: 106 minutes


As a Brit looking at the US there are few subjects that boggle the mind more than the American fascination and part addiction to guns and pharmaceuticals. The former seem to be more deeply debated than the latter, but at their core are similar arguments and interest groups. If the fabulous 2005 film Thank You For Smoking was remade today I wonder if a pharmaceutical lobbyist would be added to the small group of tobacco, alcohol and gun spokespeople. Certainly it makes sense to me. The pharmaceutical business in the US is massive and the Government’s Centre for Disease Control & Prevention has classified the abuse of prescription drugs in the US an epidemic.

This film focuses on prescription drug abuse by Emily (Rooney Mara) during and after her husband Martin’s (Channing Tatum) stint in prison for insider trading. He comes out and hopes to restart his life with Emily, but she becomes distracted, depressed and distant. To counter those feelings Emily’s doctor (Jude Law) prescribes her a new anti-depressant mentioned to him by a friendly psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta Jones) and that Emily had seen advertised on TV. In that period of consultation the director Soderbergh highlights the many ways that liberal advertising rules, widespread drug trials and physicians in the pay of drug company’s combine to flood the US with prescription drugs. And every character in the film appears to be on one drug or other.

Mara is becoming a supreme actress and she is first-rate playing the fragile and lost Emily. Her decline once on the new anti-depressant is sadly believable as are the bemusement of her husband and the frustration of her doctor. Tatum and Law do well in support as does Zeta Jones and Soderbergh pulls the strings beautifully. The first half of the film is a smart meditation on the effects of over medication, but the movie then shifts gears.

The second half is more of a thriller. The four main characters are more tightly involved than it first appears and in revealing the connections Side Effects becomes gripping and clever. The change up is handled well enough, but in hindsight this is a case of two different films being pushed together; the polemic on the abuse of prescription drugs and a straight-up conspiracy thriller. The talented Soderbergh gets away with it and Side Effects is an entertaining film, but with so much material it would also have made an outstanding six-part TV series.

One Response to “Side Effects”


  1. » Movie Review – Side Effects Fernby Films - January 11, 2014

    […] Side Effects […]

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