Director Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike, Contagion) must have a real interest in the realm of medicine and disease. Just a couple years after their film Contagion (2011), he and writer Scott Z. Burns dive back into the world of human health with Side Effects. Zombie-apocalypses aside, I’ve never really been fascinated with movies that play with the “What if?” behind possible catastrophic illnesses, but Side Effects came through with suspense, fresh twists, and a job well-done from veteran talent.
The premise of the film is that Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is suffering from severe depression. Her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from prison and shortly after he gets out, she drives her car straight into a parking garage wall. In the hospital, she is tended to by Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes), a very intelligent psychiatrist, and the two plan weekly meetings in exchange for Emily’s request of instant release from the hospital. She is prescribed a few different drugs that she feels aren’t working for her, so Dr. Banks prescribes Ablixa, based on a recommendation from Emily’s previous shrink, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones, The Legend of Zorro).
Insomnia, fatigue and sleep-walking plague Emily over the course of the two initially prescribed medications, but the side effects soon change when the Ablixa is introduced. She has more energy and a higher sexual drive, yet the sleep-walking becomes deeper and much stranger. It eventually gets to the point where she’s cooking dinner for herself, Martin, and a mysterious third person when Martin gets home and she stabs him to death with a long kitchen knife that she was cutting peppers with.
This is probably a good place to address the misuse of Channing Tatum as Martin. The only movie I’ve seen with him in a major role was his acting debut in Coach Carter (2005) as Jason Lyle, and most people wouldn’t even know he’s in that. I was expecting a larger role than what he had here as his dialogue is almost useless, except for one ironic line: “Whoever makes this drug is going to be f-ing rich.” Soderbergh is clearly a huge fan of his having directed Magic Mike and Haywire, however, with his character dying fairly early in the film, it really seemed pointless. On the other hand, it’s a smart move to attract the female audience, who will more than likely flock to theaters to get their taste of his time on the big screen.
Character interactions, individual actions and conversations fuel the plot of this psychological thriller, and strangely, the cast really seemed to be the only aspect of the movie I felt was lacking in certain roles. Rooney Mara, who is said to be stellar in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, almost reminded me of Keanu Reeves at times. Obviously she had to play a depressed, emotionless woman for the majority of the film, but even when it came time to explode and show emotion, it was underplayed, making me want just a little bit more range from her.
Jude Law completely stole the show and eventually becomes the center of attention, which he honestly deserved. As his character is stretched to his limits working with Emily, he slowly becomes obsessed with the case, losing his business partners, practice and loved ones. About halfway through he begins working out of his home, and it’s very interesting to see how the apartment changes with his mind state. What starts with boxes and bareness at his lowest point gradually begins to fill with furniture and artwork as he discovers the truth of Martin’s death. Slight symbolization gives a wonderful effect here, and every word, facial expression and action is delivered superbly by one of the veteran cast.
If, like I was, you’re expecting this movie to be about a girl who goes crazy or suffers from strange medication, you’re in for a treat. Cinema sleight of hand is utilized to perfection by Soderbergh, because when you think you know what you’re watching, he later shows that you saw correctly but there’s something much larger at work. The abundant twists in the last stretch of the film could be cause for confusion, but again, Soderbergh is one step ahead, not only showing small parts of scenes that can be easily overlooked, but also ones that aren’t shown the first time around.
An entertaining story, plenty of plot twists, clutch veteran acting and a “What you see isn’t necessarily what you get” attitude definitely made this film good. Soderbergh did a great job making many of the areas he had complete control over near-perfect. I was pleasantly surprised with what I got seeing as it was much better than what I thought it would be. Seven out of 10.