Sunday, February 10, 2013

Film Review - Side Effects

Director Steven Soderbergh ends his 14 year film making career with Side Effects that takes a hard look at the pharmaceutical industry and psychiatry in general.  The film tackles the subjects of pills, medication, research projects and the role of pharmaceutical reps.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) has everything anyone could want. Her Husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is a leading Stockbroker on Wall Street. They have a large home in Connecticut and are surrounded by well to do friends. The couple own a sailboat that they take out on a regular basis to relax at sea. Their estate is the scene of many parties where their gusts arrive and valet park their high end vehicles. Emily's life changes abruptly when her husband is arrested for insider trading and is sentenced to four years in prison.

Desperate, sad and anxious she turns to a local psychologist (Catherine Zeta- Jones) for a short period of treatment.

Jump ahead 4 years where Martin is set to be released from prison. Emily seems happy about the home coming but after driving her car into an underground parking lot wall is back in counselling this time seeing Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).

Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns lay out their opinions on the pharmaceutical industry. The pair reunite on Side Effects after working together on Contagion and The Informant!  They touch on the need to treat through pills, how they are marketed, positioned and targeted at specific segments of the public. The way that the popularity of a new pill can be spread by both word of mouth and advertising. The film gives an account of  a clinical trial from the approach by a pharmaceutical rep to the fee paid to the doctor for participating to the reaction of a patient when they learn their drugs will be free if they participate in the study.

Burn's script highlights the trips and perks given to doctors by the drug companies. From World Series trips to signed memorabilia and vacations to exotic locations.  Doctors meeting at conferences and exchanging samples of new medications to try on their patients. Then ultimately if something tragic occurs to a patient under their care they take no responsibility at all for the event.

Soderbergh presents a well paced thinking piece that starts with the aftermath of a tragic incident then falls back three months in the past to tell the majority of the story. All the scenes in this film have meaning and importance. There are no throw away moments or filler.

The soundtrack is eerie and very staccato building suspense as the action builds and progresses.

Soderbergh handles the Cinematography himself once again under a pseudonym. The film has that normal yellowish hue of a Soderbergh film.  Added to the visuals is a dull and a touch out of focus lens which fits well with Emily's blunted reactions and actions due to the medication she is taking.

The characters are fully fleshed out and all go through a series of ebbs and flows as the plot turns at  right angels then flips 180 degrees one way and back 180 degrees in the other direction. Rooney Mara is excellent as the focus of the film who undergoes a plethora of emotions that switch with just about every scene. Jude Law is also strong as the psychiatrist who happens to be on shift at the Hospital  the night that Emily crashes her car and is called in for a consult which turns into a full on patient doctor relationship.

Retirement film or not Side Effects is very good and a film that I can definitely recommend. If Soderbergh is in fact done making films at age 50 he has left on a high note.

*** 1/2  out of 4

Side Effects | Steven Soderbergh | U.S.A. | 2013 | 115 Minutes.

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