Side Effects May Include Shock, Dissatisfaction
- Friday, February 08, 2013
DVD Release Date: May 21, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: February 8, 2013
Rating: R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language
Run Time: 106 min.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta Jones, Jude Law, Polly Draper
Director Steven Soderbergh has successfully worked across genres: star-studded, glitzy caper films like the Ocean's series, a coming-of-age tale (King of the Hill) and a historical epic (Che) are among his credits. He’s alternated small art-house films like Sex, Lies and Videotape with star-driven vehicles like Erin Brockovich. The results have been impressive: a Best Director Oscar (for Traffic) and a catalog of films that range from blockbusters to ultra-obscure (Schizopolis).
For months Soderbergh has been saying he plans to retire from directing feature films as soon as he finishes a few projects in the pipeline. One of those is Side Effects, another project with big-name actors that, like 2011's Contagion, explores issues of medical ethics. But unlike Contagion, Side Effects is also about personal ethics. It plays not like a propulsive against-the-odds thriller, but a slow-burning, twisting mystery that veers into uncharted territory for Soderbergh. The final product is strangely unsatisfying—moving into erotic, even perverse areas that aren’t well suited to Soderbergh’s smooth but cold visual style.
Things are looking up for Emily (Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) when she’s reunited with Martin (Channing Tatum, The Vow). He's been locked up for months, convicted of insider trading, and although the couple is happy, they know that Martin’s reintegration into society will be tough. In contemporary America, the couple believes, insider trading is treated as the equivalent of murder.
Martin tries to retain an optimistic outlook—"I can get us back to where we were," he assures Emily—but it quickly emerges that Emily is struggling with something that may go deeper than concerns about Martin’s future. In a fit of despair, she drives her car into a parking-garage wall. She survives and is prescribed an experimental drug, Ablixa, by a psychiatrist (Jude Law) caring for Emily. It "stops the brain from telling you you’re sad," he explains to Emily.
The drug has some nasty side effects that include sleepwalking and radical changes in behavior. The film's first half plays like an exposé of the influence of Big Pharma—a psychiatrist prescribes an experimental drug as part of a trial for which he’s being handsomely paid—mixed with a surface examination of philosophical questions such as whether we're all just victims of circumstance and biology.
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