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Review – Side Effects (15) [2013]

Side Effects - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Steven Soderbergh – Traffic, Contagion, Behind the Candelabra

Cast:

  • Rooney Mara – A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Social Network, Her
  • Channing Tatum – The Eagle,White House Down21 & 22 Jump Street
  • Jude Law – The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Contagion, Dom Hemingway
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones – Traffic, Playing For Keeps, Red II
  • Vinessa Shaw – The Hills Have Eyes, 3:10 to Yuma, Siren
  • James Martinez – Gravity, The Sessions, An Artist’s Emblem

Music Composer:

Before taking medication, one has an idea that for all the positives of the medicine there is likely to be negative implications. These are better known as side effects, and doctors should always make their patients aware of them for reasons of liability. Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh’s second medical thriller in the space of eighteen months, soundly illustrates some of medicines’ many snags as well as the trouble doctors could find themselves in if they don’t make their patients aware of them.

Martin (Channing Tatum) and Emily (Rooney Mara) looking like an aesthetically perfect couple, dressed smartly at a friend's party.

Martin (Channing Tatum) and Emily (Rooney Mara) looking like an aesthetically perfect couple, dressed smartly at a friend’s party.

Side Effects more or less begins with Martin (Channing Tatum) coming out of prison to be reunited with his wife, Emily (Rooney Mara). Emily, however, seemingly suffers from depression and other self-esteem issues, and appears unable to cope with life. So, after attempting suicide, she meets Dr. John Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes her a series of drugs to make her feel better, after consulting with Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Emily’s previous doctor.

The drugs work initially for Emily. But then the side effects kick in. And with consequences for Emily, Martin and Dr. Banks.

Side Effects is a slow-paced medical thriller that is mysterious and gripping for its apt 106 minute running time. Although the plot has several contrived moments, all of these are explained reasonably well, so the film does not feel like a patch-work for lazy script-writing. What’s more, the film has a generally unsettling ambience and leads to an unexpected conclusion that is most welcome.

Dr. John Banks (Jude Law) chewing his breakfast, wondering how his world has turned upside down due to Emily's reaction to the drugs he prescribed her.

Dr. John Banks (Jude Law) chewing his breakfast, wondering how his world has turned upside down due to Emily’s reaction to the drugs he prescribed her.

In part, the disquieting atmosphere of Side Effects is due to the strange, yet thought-provoking music that is virtually on tape-loop during the movie. The other reason is due to good dialogue and acting, not least from Rooney Mara in the lead role. Invariably, her character seems to be permanently on a medically-prescribed drug or suffering from a drug’s drawback; in particular, the latter, and Mara plays it all troublingly well.

Surprisingly, Jude Law, as the doctor in danger of losing his career, performs decently too. He might show little compassion toward his wife, Deirdre (Vinessa Shaw), and son, but Law is certainly considerably better here than he is in (the mind-numbing) The Holiday and in Contagion, wherein he adopts a laughable Australian accent. (As if anyone would believe that Jude Law were Australian!)

The beautilful and manipulative, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), unaware that someone is looking at her through the window.

The beautilful and manipulative, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), unaware that someone is looking at her through the window.

Channing Tatum, in his comfort-zone as the handsome and charming husband, gives a standard demonstration of his acting skills, while Catherine Zeta-Jones, as arguably the villain of the movie, is just as cunning and classily appealing as she was a decade ago in Intolerable Cruelty.

Thus, Side Effects is an enjoyable film that is likely to take viewers by surprise. Granted, it has plot conveniences, yet one is likely to forgive the movie for these as the storyline is intelligent and keeps audiences in suspense. Furthermore, one is likely to be more wary of the downside of certain medications after watching the film; and doctors, if they did not already, are likely to become paranoid about being sued by their patients for prescribing them medications with foreseeable and unforeseeable side effects.

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Review – Contagion (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 2/5

In the Middle Ages, pestilence and plague were semi-regular occurrences. Every fifteen years or so, the grim reaper would appear in the form of the Black Death and scythe down a not insignificant percentage of populations across Europe. Again, in 1918, after World War I (WWI), the world was struck by another form of pestilence: the ‘Spanish Flu’, which killed one percent of the then-world population. Despite being over-all quite poor, Contagion shows us once more that mankind is still not immune to new diseases and viruses.

Mitch (Matt Damon) in shock after suddenly losing his wife to the epidemic.

Contagion is a medical thriller about a virus that rapidly spreads across the world. The first known death in America is that of Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow – Se7en, Shakespeare In Love, The Avengers Assemble), who returns home to her family and husband, Mitch (Matt Damon – True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, Elysium), from a trip to Hong Kong only to have a seizure and die soon afterwards. Rapidly, more people become infected. There is no cure for the virus either, and around one in four people are expected to become infected. (Although, one in three people who become infected are expected to survive.)

Scientists, from across the world, led by Atalanta-based Dr. Ellis Cheevers (Laurence Fishburne – Apocalypse Now, The Matrix I-III, Man of Steel) and his team, work hard to find an antidote. Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet – Titanic, The Reader, Steve Jobs) uses her knowledge to try and slow down the spread of the virus, whilst working in the field. Dr. Leonara Orantes (Marion Cotillard – Public Enemies, Midnight In Paris, The Dark Knight Rises) works with a team in Hong Kong to establish where the virus came from in order to facilitate the creation of an antidote.

But until an antidote has been tested sufficiently and is safe, nothing can be distributed. In the meantime, indirectly egged-on by a conspiratorially-inclined blogger called Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law – Enemy At The Gates, The Holiday, Side Effects), social order breaks down.

Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), a scientist under Dr. Ellis Cheevers, working hard in the laboratory to try and create an antidote.

The plot for Contagion has been done in a documentary style, similar to Cloverfield (albeit, without the camera wobbling). This entails that one watches the effects of the virus upon people and societies over a series of days. One images that the director, Steven Soderburgh (Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s Eleven & Ocean’s Twelve, Side Effects), did this to give the film a more realistic feel. If so, he succeeds. As a corollary of the realism, the speed at which the virus transmits and kills people has the impact of frightening the audience (in probably the same way that bubonic plague used to terrify people in Medieval times). Also, the timing of the chaos that subsequently unfolds, as a result of panic by those who have not yet been infected, seems quite natural. It is quite conceivable for law and order to collapse under the pressures that Contagion puts forward.

However, many aspects of the storyline are either left unexplained or fall by the wayside, which undermines the film considerably. Moreover, as the movie has no central protagonist, one cannot build any sympathy or empathy (or care) for any of the characters. Worse, the dialogue, at times, sounds contrived (if not risible) and none of the actors play particularly well. Even the normally excellent Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and Matt Damon do not do themselves justice here.

Allan Krumwiede (Jude Law), wearing a ridiculous ‘wannabe’ Buzz Lightyear outfit so he doesn’t contract the virus, spreading his new-found insight about why the government has not distributed the cure as yet onto a random car.

Due to the lack of a dominant performer, the audience may struggle to maintain interest in the film. At 106 minutes, Contagion is an average length for a movie; yet, viewers may find themselves yawning or looking at their watches (long) before it is over, which is never a good sign for a film. Not even the music, which adopts a standard fast beat for much of the movie, has the ability to keep the audience’s eyes concentrated on the screen for long.

On the whole, Contagion has many deficient features, as several of the sub-stories are forgotten about and there is a distinct lack of a central and well-defined character. Nevertheless, Contagion appears scarily realistic and shows us that, irrespective of how advanced medical treatment may be, humanity is still potentially defenceless against new and ever-mutating epidemics.

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