Thrillers are meant to indulge and perhaps even confuse audiences. However, “Side Effects” does very little indulging and creates far more confusion than necessary. It isn’t a bad film by any means; the first two acts of the film are good, but the finale is all over the place. While the plot can be slightly convoluted, the movie’s execution and the cast’s acting are on point.
Steven Soderbergh helms the film, serving as its trusted captain. The script is rather stormy and unclear, but Soderbergh’s influence guides it toward some common focal point.
The disturbed Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara, unrecognizable from her stint in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) faces a returning bout of depression following her husband Martin’s (Channing Tatum) much anticipated release from prison. After a suicide attempt, she comes in contact with a well-respected psychiatrist, Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who tries to help her through her troubles. Most of the medication he prescribes is ineffective, so Banks decides to honor Emily’s request and give her a new drug named Ablixa. At first, the pills seem to be working, as Emily is able to enjoy life more vibrantly, albeit with a sleepwalking side effect.
However, the happy outcome soon turns dark and violent when Emily, during a heavy sleepwalking episode, murders her husband. Soon enough, Banks’ involvement with his patient, though strictly professional, gets flipped upside down as he begins to receive some of the blame for what has occurred. As Emily’s case starts to intrude on his life, Banks is forced to take matters into his own hands to determine whether or not the drug Ablixa is to blame, or if something more sinister is stirring.
Both Mara and Law give formidable performances. Law is especially good in his role as the ever-worried psychiatrist. Mara, on the other hand, is mesmerizing as the troubled Emily and plays the doe-eyed victim quite well. Other noted performances include Tatum’s smaller role of a husband trying to get his life back together, as well as the phenomenal Catherine Zeta-Jones as Emily’s mysterious old therapist. Vinessa Shaw is also great in her role as Banks’ wife.
The actual structure of the film is never the problem. The shots, while longer than usual, help create a nice, suspenseful tone, as does the score. “Side Effects” also has a decent script, right up until the latter portion of the film. By the time things wrap up, there is a catharsis, but most audiences will scratch their heads in wonder thinking, “Oh, that’s what happened?!” And not in a good way.
“Side Effects” is reportedly Soderbergh’s last film. It isn’t a terrible film to end a noteworthy career on, but it’s far from his best work. If you’d rather avoid the headache of spending close to $10 on this thriller, just wait for the DVD. The ending also might leave some audience members confused, but considering the movie’s title, that’s no real shocker.
Speakeasy Rating: C
Starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Vinessa Shaw.
Rated R for nudity, language and violence.