Side Effects, my review

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum & Catherine Zeta-Jones

Synopsis: A young woman’s world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.

Side Effects is somewhat of a traditional thriller, a slow burner, or what my Dad would call a “sensible film”, and in all fairness I would completely agree with him. Everything in this movie is given the necessary time to evolve and develop into something brilliant, and even though it is slow going at times it is never anything less than gripping.

Side Effects starts off, relatively, simply. Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, a young woman who would appear to have pretty much everything in life. A nice home, a good job and a handsome husband (Tatum) who is soon to be released from prison after serving time for insider trading. Only Emily is also intensely depressed, suffering from a mix of emotions and also having suicidal tendencies.

After Emily’s first suicide attempt she is taken into the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Banks decides on a course of prescription pills to help remedy Emily’s problem. The initial dose seems to work at first, until there are some unwanted side effects (sorry). After this, Banks prescribes a new drug by the name of Ablixa to cure Emily of her ills. At first the Ablixa pill seems to be working, Emily is happy, smiling, her sex drive returns and she is maintaining a healthy & happy relationship with her husband.

This is the part of the movie where things start to unravel, to say anymore would completely ruin the story and any surprise the director intended for the audience. Suffice to say the focus of the story shifts somewhat from Emily to Dr. Banks, and what was once a film about prescription drugs and how people depend upon them, and are fooled by the advertising and so on and so forth turns into an even more complex tale of deception and fraud and how easily trust can be misplaced and abused.

Jude Law, I feel, has never been better. His character starts off with a smug self assuredness, but as the film progresses we slowly see the chinks in his armour as circumstances spiral out of his control. Even as events take a turn for the worse, Dr. Banks refuses to step away from investigating what has really happened and at the same time hoping to piece his life back together.

Rooney Mara is also excellent. Playing Emily as an extremely vulnerable and even, at times, lonely woman. Her transformation halfway through is quite something. Of the other actors on show, Tatum perhaps fairs the worst, not out of bad acting mind, he is a fine young actor, but more to the point that he doesn’t seem to have much to do. As I say this is no fault of his own, but the movie is never about him and his role merely serves as a purpose to progress the story.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays another character who, at first, doesn’t seem to have much to do either. Though her actions as a Doctor and her motives for recommending Ablixa as a possible remedy for Dr. Banks to prescribe to Emily, do become more apparent as the movie wears on. Zeta-Jones is also on sterling form here, exuding a cold professionalism and yet being very susceptible when faced with a choice that will have severe repercussions.

Side Effects doesn’t have many faults to its name. The only two that spring to mind now would be some pacing issues and whether certain elements of the story can be picked apart under closer scrutiny.

If this is to be Steven Soderbergh’s swan song, he has stated that he will now retire from making movies, then Side Effects is one hell of a way to bow out. Soderbergh gives us a compelling and detailed story, mixed with some fierce acting and some brilliant twists along the way. Definitely what my Dad would call a “sensible film”.


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