Side Effects

© 2013 Ray Wong

After the immense success of his male stripper drama, Steven Soderberg follows up with a slick psychological thriller, Side Effects, that examines our dependency on prescription drugs. Side Effects is also rumored to be Soderberg's last film as he has announced his intention to quit making movies.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) patiently and eagerly waits four years for her husband Marin (Channing Tatum) to be released from jail after being convicted of insider trading. They have lost almost everything, and so now they have a chance to rebuild their lives together. However, Emily is suffering from severe depressing that renders her suicidal.

After a failed suicide attempt, Emily agrees to see psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) on a regular basis. Meanwhile, to help Emily cope, Dr. Banks prescribes her various medications but many have severe side effects that make her irritable, sleepless and sometimes even more depressed. After another suicide attempt by Emily, Banks consults her former psychiatrist Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who suggests that Emily to be put on a new wonder drug called Ablixa.

After taking the drug, Emily's condition improves tremendously, except for the occasional episodes of sleepwalking, which is one of the side effects of Ablixa. Banks tries to convince Emily to get off of the drug, but Emily argues that the drug is helping her putting her life  back together with Martin, and she can deal with the sleepwalking. Reluctantly, Banks agrees to keep her on the medication, until one day he receives a call that there has been an incident…

After giving an impressive performance in Anna Karenina, Jude Law plays a different role here, as a young, charming, helpful psychiatrist who unwittingly gets himself into much hot water by trying to help his patient. Law displays a wide range of emotions and attributes that makes his character believable despite some of the more outlandish circumstances.

Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is fantastic as Emily. A beautiful waif, Mara shows us a fragile, frightened and disturbed woman who is surprisingly strong and willful. I can't really discuss her other attributes as they will reveal part of the plot, but suffice it to say Mara gives a surprising but convincing performance.

The supporting cast is solid as well. Catherine Zeta-Jones (The Rock of Ages) is no stranger to mental illness herself as she battles bipolar disease in real life. Here, as a psychiatrist who may have an ulterior motive, she is collected, distant and somewhat cold, which suits her character perfectly. Channing Tatum (Magic Mike) doesn't have much to do as Emily's husband, but he fulfills his role adequately. Polly Draper (Our Idiot Brother) and Mamie Gummer (The Lifeguard) turn in admirable performances as Emily's boss and friend respectively.

The screenplay by Scott Z. Burns (Contagion) is a taut nail-biter that hooks us from the very beginning and keeps us on the edges of our seats throughout the entire movie. Despite a rather trite and unnecessary short prologue (although it serves as a great bookend with the ending shot), the script has a great set up and structure, and the plot flows well and coherently. Never was I confused by what is going on. The plot twist comes about naturally but also unexpected. Granted, anyone who is observant enough or comes to see the movie having been cognizant of the possible twist would not be surprised. However, the way the plot advances and how director Soderberg (Magic Mike) moves it along makes it harder for the casual audience to grasp the twist.

Soderberg makes a good decision to keep the story clipping along at a brisk pace, leaving no room for the audience to ponder and question what they are seeing. That allows him to set things up and following Emily and Banks's journeys.  As a suspense-thriller, the movie has enough suspense and thrills to entertain and engross us. The story starts out as something The problem is, once we see the plot twists and where it is going, we start to feel somewhat manipulated. That's the inherent problems with suspense as the structure and construction are by nature manipulative. Certain things don't make sense anymore, or start to feel forced.

That said, Soderberg is able to keep the jarring plot elements at bay by keeping the characters in their respective frantic states, thus giving us certain parameters for doubt and inconsistency. Soderberg's skillful execution also reminds me of Ocean 11 or Traffic. It is a shame that Soderberg has decided to stop directing (whether it is true or not, we'll have to see), but if this is indeed his last film, Side Effects is a perfectly enjoyable swan song.

Stars: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, Polly Draper, Mamie Gummer
Director: Steven Soderberg
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Distributor: Open Road Films
MPAA Rating:  R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language
Running Time: 106 minutes 


Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 7
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 8
Production - 8

Total - 7.7 out of 10.0 

1 comment:

Dan O. said...

Nice review Ray. Films like these are the reason I go to the movies. I always want the filmmakers to turn my head and veer off the well-worn path, and just keep me on-edge the whole damn time.