x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Prescription for an unsettling affair

Book review: Collusion between big pharma and big money is about as unsettling a relationship as they come. Throw a bloody crime into the mix, and you have all the ingredients for a gripping noir.

Rooney Mara stars in the film Side Effects. Barry Wetcher / AP Photo
Rooney Mara stars in the film Side Effects. Barry Wetcher / AP Photo

Collusion between big pharma and big money is about as unsettling a relationship as they come. Throw a bloody crime into the mix, and you have all the ingredients for a gripping noir.

Such is the formula in Side Effects, directed by Steven Soderbergh, a thriller exploring the murkiness behind one of the most lucrative industries in the United States. But does it fare well in clinical trials?

The film's mix of financial fraud and pharmaceutical industry collusion comes at an appropriate time - the Securities and Exchange Commission is in the final stages of extracting its biggest settlement yet in an insider trading case from the hedge fund SAC Capital.

Rooney Mara stars as Emily, a troubled graphic designer whose hedge fund-manager husband (Channing Tatum) is released from prison after an insider trading conviction.

While he sets about rebuilding their life with the help of a contact made in prison who has "money in Dubai and a lot of connections", she seems to find it hard to cope and appears close to the brink of suicide.

After accelerating her car into the wall of a car park, she encounters Jude Law, a British psychiatrist living the good life in New York City.

He agrees to undertake trials of a new medicine on behalf of some pharmaceutical industry reps in an effort to counteract her increasingly severe signs of depression.

The new drugs initially work like a charm. But when Emily commits a grisly murder while sleepwalking, the movie turns darker still.

Comparisons with Hitchcock are appropriate, with Law's leading man drawn into an increasingly labyrinthine world and seemingly losing touch with reality himself. The plot twists come thick and fast.

There is a lot to like about the movie. It has a strong cast, good production values and Mara delivers some incredibly eerie moments.

But it is let down by a plot that is so absurdly baroque and over-the-top that one is half-expecting to see a shootout in a mental ward by the time of the finale.