‘Side Effects’ gives American cinema a bold new look
By Max Donner
The co-producers of “Side Effects” Dr. Sascha Barday and Lorenzo di Bonaventura (left) cast acting talents Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara (right)
Hollywood(Hollywood Today)2/4/13/–Rooney Mara emerged as an actress of distinction last winter in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” This winter, audiences will see a new dimension to her talents in a pioneering production titled “Side Effects.” Directed by Steven Soderbergh, “Side Effects” also stars Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum and Vanessa Shaw. The new film’s subject is one of the most serious in new films this year: financial fraud schemes made possible by controversial practices in psychiatry and pharmacology.
Viewers accustomed to the bedside manner of doctors appearing on “Scrubs” or “ER” will get a serious look at what is seriously wrong with the practice of medicine in America today. Jude Law portrays Dr. Jonathan Banks, a Manhattan psychiatrist with an out-of-work wife (Vanessa Shaw) and a lot of debts. Entering stage right are well paid, well dressed, drug company sales representatives with plenty of cash to fund research contracts for new drugs they would like tested with real patients.
The side effects seen in “Side Effects” are very real. The patient played by Mara actually reads side effects descriptions directly from the labels of prescription drugs as her drug based treatment escalates. As the drama escalates, reports of bizarre and often disturbing reactions by patients using the same new drug accentuate a meltdown by the patient. A dizzying downward spiral in the professional and personal lives of the prescribing doctor churns the plot into a classic psychodrama.
When the story is investigated by reporters, police and district attorneys, the audience sees another kind of meltdown. That is a meltdown in medical practices that raises doubts about the dependability of medical research and the practice of medicine in America today.
While the film is presented as a suspenseful drama, it is based on rigorous research conducted by the team’s medical expert, Dr. Sascha Barday, at large public hospitals. Bardey is a forensic psychiatrist and teaches at NYU Medical Center. He has worked as an expert consultant for “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” and is now an expert consultant for “Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit.”
At the cast and production team press conference on January 26 in Beverly Hills, actor Jude Law presented his perspective that “the film raises the issue of relying on medicine for all the wrong reasons.” He was also quick to point out that he has great respect for the medical profession. His viewpoint was echoed by co-star Rooney Mara. She remarked similarly that “I’ve always had respect for psychiatry as a profession.” After the film is released, psychiatrists will probably have more respect for filmmaking as a profession, too.
“Side Effects” opens in theaters nationwide on February 8. This will give audiences a chance to see American cinema move in a bold new direction. Gone are the caring doctors of romance novels and T.V. soaps who always know best. They are shown side by side with Wall Street bankers whose own insecurities and inner conflicts are portrayed on screen through the vision of a drugged patient. The film also demonstrates how suspenseful, well written dramas can show general audiences serious content that used to be reserved for documentaries and investigative reporting.
Will this pioneering film produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura start a new trend? That question is just one more element of suspense that makes the film well worth watching.
Photo credit: Max Donner
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