A psychological thriller in the truest sense of the term, Side Effects raises uncomfortable questions about mental health professionals and the pharmaceutical industry to which they’re so tightly connected … right before it pulls the rug out from under you. If this is indeed Steven Soderbergh’s final movie, then at least he leaves the world of filmmaking on a high note.
Who’s in it? Rooney Mara (Emily Taylor), Jude Law (Dr. Banks), Channing Tatum (Martin Taylor), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Dr. Siebert)
What’s it about? The Taylors had it all—looks, friends, tons of money, a great life in the Big Apple—until Martin had to go and get himself thrown in the slammer for insider trading. His wife—the frail, fidgety Emily—struggled with depression and anxiety before Martin’s sentence, and his return after several years triggers another, harsher, downward spiral. She meets Dr. Banks by chance after a particularly dark episode, and he soon becomes her psychiatrist. To ensure he has the full story on his new patient, Banks seeks out her previous therapist, Dr. Siebert, who recaps Emily’s past issues.
The weeks pass, and Dr. Banks can’t seem to make much progress with Emily. The prescription drug he suggested is taking a toll on her, and she’s anxious to try something new so that she and her husband can focus on rebuilding their life together. So Banks switches Emily’s meds, and this time he goes with a new drug he just so happens to receive a hefty bonus for prescribing. But to be fair, it’s also a drug that others, including Dr. Siebert, have found promising for cases like Emily’s. Unfortunately, they were all wrong. Things get even worse for Emily on this new drug—in fact, something horrible happens—and now it’s time to point fingers. But who is truly to blame?
What’s good? I don’t want to give too many details away about Side Effects‘ story, because the movie’s strength is in its subplots and twists. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, The Informant!) does a marvelous job of pulling us deeper and deeper into his characters’ worlds, only to upend everything we thought we’d figured out about each of them. But it wouldn’t have worked without Soderbergh drawing out flawless performances from his entire cast, with Mara and Law shining the brightest. In a film that explores states of mind, you never truly know what’s going on inside either of their heads, and there are no easy answers spoon-fed to the audience about why they do the things they do. It brings to mind movies like Basic Instinct, The Talented Mr. Ripley (Law again!) and The Usual Suspects. When was the last time you were genuinely caught off guard by a film? Side Effects will remind you of how unsettling—but at the same time gratifying—such an experience can be.
Add in Thomas Newman’s surreal score and Soderbergh’s use of digital video, and the scene is set for some unbelievably disturbing sequences. The one that will stick in my mind, probably forever, is when the Really Bad Thing happens. If I had only watched that scene, I would’ve thought it had been pulled from a straight-up horror film. Not because it was gory, but rather because it was bone-chillingly spooky.
What could’ve been better? The heightening tension doesn’t hold up as well as it should in the movie’s final act, but by then you’ll be so intrigued to find out how everything’s going to be resolved that you probably won’t care.
The bottom line: A taught thriller is a rare thing these days, so if a twist-fulled murder mystery is your cup of tea, you’re sure to enjoy Side Effects. Let’s hope Soderbergh doesn’t really retire after this one.
Redbox movies from the Side Effects team:
- Magic Mike on DVD or Blu-ray™ (directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Channing Tatum)
- Haywire on DVD or Blu-ray (directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring Channing Tatum)
- Other Channing Tatum movies
- Rock of Ages on DVD or Blu-ray (starring Catherine Zeta-Jones)
- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on DVD or Blu-ray (starring Rooney Mara)