sun 25/02/2024

Side Effects | reviews, news & interviews

Side Effects

Side Effects

Money, pills, sex and shrinks collide in expert Soderbergh thriller

Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara as Martin and Emily Taylor, masters of the universe heading for a fall

Stephen Soderbergh would have us believe that this might be his last movie, which is difficult to believe. But if so, he's bowing out with one his sharpest, most devious and most watchable pictures, in which a shrewdly-chosen cast does full justice to a screenplay over which Scott Z Burns has pored painstakingly for more than a decade.

Our subject at first seems to be the evils of Big Pharma, the giant drug corporations which seek to exploit human weakness and the stresses of 21st century life to keep their market share high and their stock prices soaring. Their questionable ethics and business practices are none-too-subtly roped together with the excesses of the financial markets, since one of the protagonists, Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum), is being released from prison after serving a four-year stretch for insider trading as the movie opens.

His wife Emily (a feline and fascinating performance from Rooney Mara) is there to greet him at the prison gates, but his punishment has taken a heavy psychological toll on her. Suddenly stripped of the dream lifestyle which Martin's market manipulations had paid for - luxury sailing yacht, waterside mansion, holidays in Maui - Emily has crashed to earth, reduced to a living in a one-room apartment and working in a design agency. Martin's return only seems to compound her confusion, prompting her to drive her car semi-suicidally into a wall (one of the script's neatest aperçus is the observation that "depression is an inability to construct a future"). We learn that she's already had psychiatric treatment from Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and now she finds herself under the care of Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, pictured above right).

Banks, who isn't averse to slipping his own wife Deirdre (Vinesssa Shaw) a beta-blocker before she goes for an important job interview, is soon sizing up Emily for appropriate medication. Earnest discussion among the cast's stressed city-dwellers of favourite pill brand names - Zoloft, Celexa, the new-fangled Delatrex - is part of the film's mordantly satirical view of a not-entirely-sane world, and it's ultimately Ablixa (advertised in subway stations with the slogan "Take Ablixa today and take back tomorrow") that becomes Emily's prescription panacea.

Inevitably its effects aren't entirely as advertised, but Soderbergh and Burns are way ahead of the viewer and they've still got miles of twisty, hair-raising road to take us screeching around. The film's mood of playfully sadistic knowingness as it teases and torments its way towards a brilliantly unexpected conclusion is key to its allure, as is its bracingly pessimistic view of human nature. The characters may be smart, ambitious, scheming, troubled or (especially in Law's case) charming, but what they're not is selfless or "good". Suffice to say that Dr Burns's kindly intentions aren't driven exclusively by virtuous professionalism, but in this environment victimhood isn't what it seems either.

This is an utterly contemporary film in its analysis of lifestyles, attitudes and health neuroses, as well as a hugely satisfying thriller with echoes of genre classics like Vertigo or Body Heat. Roman Polanski would be quite proud of it too. One small snag  - the plot is so slick and tricky that you may have to go twice, just to keep up.  

Watch the trailer for Side Effects


The characters may be smart, ambitious, scheming, troubled or (especially in Law's case) charming, but what they're not is selfless or 'good'


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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