Those “ask your doctor about” commercials for medication always have a lawyer-imposed “side effects may include” section briskly recited by the narrator in the second half of the ad in the same bright but soothing tones used for the near-miraculous results described in the first half. It is a difficult choice to balance the risks and benefits of some of today’s pharmaceuticals, made more difficult by the conflicts of interest that doctors and drug companies face in balancing what is best for the patients with what is best for them.
Steven Soderbergh’s nicely nasty and genre-bendingly twisty thriller takes place at the heart of this conflict. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) takes mood-lifting medication to deal with the crushing stress she faces with her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) in prison for insider trading and the loss of all their money and their luxurious life in Connecticut. Martin gets out after four years and promises her that he will get it all back for her. But the stress is too much. After a suicide attempt, her new psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who earns a little extra money with a cushy “consulting” fee from a drug company pushing a new anti-depressant, prescribes medication, and then more medication to deal with the side effects of the pills she is already taking. We know from the very first scene that this is not going to turn out well.
The drug that “helps stop the brain from telling you you’re sad” and lets you “take back tomorrow” is something “everyone takes.” “It doesn’t make you anything you’re not,” the doctor explains. “It just makes it easier to be who you are.” But is his recommendation compromised by the $50,000 he gets just to “go to a few meetings, recruit some patients, track some data?” Law is excellent as the doctor who wants to do the right thing but may want to do right by too many people. And his judgment may be further compromised by a problem from his past.
Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion”) build some meta-surprises into the story. And just about anything more I can tell you after that would require a spoiler alert, so I’ll just say that the less you know about the movie before seeing it, the better you will be able to appreciate it. In fact, don’t watch the television commercials. They give too much away. But if you need to know more now, I’ll just say that the movie’s biggest surprise may be how conventional it turns out to be.
Parents should know that this movie includes SPOILER ALERT explicit sexual references and situations with nudity and adultery, very strong language, a suicide attempt, a brutal murder, drinking, and use and abuse of drugs.
Family discussion: What should Dr. Banks have done differently and why?
ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT:
If you like this, try: “Final Analysis” and “Malice”