Medication. Medication. Medication
“Medication. Medication. Medication.
That’s what you need.
If you wanna be the best,
and you wanna beat the rest.
what you need.”
These weren’t the actual lyrics to BBC1’s Record Breakers theme song but, if
you’re of a certain age, you may well have sang them in the school playground and it’s our increasing reliance on medication that lies at
the heart of Steven Soderbergh’s new
thriller Side Effects.
When her husband, disgraced insider trader Martin (Channing Tatum), is released after
serving a four-year sentence, highly-strung Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) struggles to adjust to his return and slips into
After an abortive suicide attempt (she drives her car
straight into a wall), Emily finds herself under the care of slick but caring
psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). After consulting with Emily’s previous
therapist, Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine
Zeta-Jones), Banks prescribes Emily the newly approved wonder drug,
At first, the drug does indeed work wonders but every drug
has side effects and while Martin has few complaints about Emily’s vastly
increased, rampant libido, her new habit of sleepwalking is a little more
disturbing, Emily entering fugue states which see her prepare breakfast in the
middle of the night or zone out and forget to get off the train and go to
Concerned, Banks proposes changing her medication but Emily
is adamant the drug is working for her, that it’s her best chance at a normal
life. Then, in a trance-like
state, she commits a shocking act of violence and finds herself on trial for
murder. As Emily’s life unravels,
Banks finds himself in the firing line…
should probably come with its own prescription warning listing the side effects
that may result from watching Side
Warning! Watching Side Effects may cause drowsiness during its flabby middle
Warning! Watching Side Effects may cause disorientation as it shifts gears halfway
through and goes from being an exposé of
the drug industry to being a fairly obvious mystery thriller.
Warning! While watching Side Effects, you may experience extreme déjà vu as the plot is
reminiscent of a reheated episode of Midsomer
Murders. Albeit classier. Maybe Lewis then rather than Midsomer. But you’ve definitely seen this
potboiling plot before.
Warning! If you’re planning to watch Side Effects, don’t watch the trailer,
which, like the trailer for the recent Broken
City, reveals enough plot in two minutes to allow a ten-year old whose
spent their life in a cave in the Andes to forecast every twist and turn in its
With Side Effects
being Steven Soderbergh’s alleged directorial swan song, he’s publicly said
this will be his last film, this seems as good a time to commit critical heresy
and ask the one question no one’s asking: are we really going to miss him?
From his earlier, masturbatory work (Sex, Lies And Videotape, Kafka, Schizopolis) through films like Erin Brockovich and Traffic, from his “ironic” modern Rat Pack movies (Ocean’s Eleven through Thirteen)
to the wintry narcissism of more recent films like The Girlfriend Experience and Magic
Mike, Soderbergh’s films have been mostly glossy, smart, good-looking affairs
that often feel emotionally vacuous, chic and elegant but uninvolving. He’s made 25 films in 25 years and
dipped his trotters in genres as diverse as Sci-Fi (Solaris), Crime (The Limey),
Action (Haywire) and Noir (The Underneath, The Good German) but be
honest; how many of his films have actually moved you?
Like most of Soderbergh’s oeuvre, Side Effects is slick, stylish, clever and handsome but it never
quite engages you on an emotional level.
The first third or so charting Emily’s battle with depression and her
increasing dependence on the quick-fix solution of antidepressants feels like an exposé of corporate healthcare and big pharma
(you mean, drug companies court doctors
by wining and dining them and paying them for their involvement in trials? I feel so used…), without actually
addressing the real issues or acknowledging the often life-saving benefits of
treatment. Statistically, 13-15%
of us reading this right now are probably taking an SSRI or SSNI but Side Effects never really engages with
this fact, preferring instead the tried and tested “pill-popping baaaaad!” route.
Then, as Emily faces prison and Banks faces financial and
personal ruin, Side Effects
transforms itself into a fairly obvious, pedestrian mystery thriller that
offers few surprises but holds your attention thanks to Soderbergh’s
machine-tooled precision, his surface gloss and good performances from it’s
protagonists. As Emily, Rooney
Mara gets to display a little more range than she did as lesbian Goth avenger Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s The Girl With The iPhone,
Catherine Zeta-Jones is obviously relishing her ice queen role and while the
idea of lovable lummox Channing Tatum as a financial whizz-kid is as believable
and perverse as casting Barbara Streisand as a beautiful $500-an-hour hooker
(yup, you read that right, $500. An hour!) in 1987’s Nuts, he’s a charming and sympathetic
presence (unlike Babs. Seriously, $500?). Perhaps the best thing about Side Effects however is it reminds you
just how good an actor Jude Law is.
Handsome and charismatic, he’s often called upon to be little more than
a smug, arrogant smirk. Here he
manages the near impossible making a rich, well-educated, entitled, middle
class psychiatrist, fighting to maintain his privileged lifestyle, not only a
sympathetic but likable protagonist.
Nowhere near as smart as it thinks it with a final, punitive
twist that feels more than a little misogynistic, Side Effects is an enjoyable slice of glitter. If this really is Soderbergh’s final
film however, you’d think he’d have aimed for something a little less