‘Side Effects’ Cures What Ails You
In the days of Xanax, Zoloft, Prozac, Valium and more magical tablets designed to fix all your problems, it’s easy to forget that these substances aren’t perfect. And, depending on your reasons for popping such pills, there could be some freaky Side Effects.
When her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from prison following a stint for insider trading, Manhattanite Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) expects there to be a transitional period as the two of them adjust to their new lives. But when the pressures of her marriage start to become too great to cope with, she is forced to seek out professional help. Enter psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who’s quick to recommend anti-depressants to get her back on track. With a referral by Emily’s former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Banks gets his patient on the new drug, Ablixa, which seems to be doing the trick. However, Emily’s activities on the new medication soon turn to bloodshed, leaving Banks’s credibility in jeopardy. Though he’s willing to accept responsibility for what may be poor judgment on his part, Banks starts to think maybe there is more to the matter than meets the eye.
As he often does, Law brings a quiet intensity to his role that few actors can match, playing the part of the put-upon shrink nicely. Maybe those Sherlock Holmes movies have rubbed off on him, because he seems to be trying that much harder as he turns sleuth to analyze the details of his disturbed patient. Mara comes off her Lisbeth Salander high as another young woman who’s entirely inscrutable, perhaps more so than the Swedish super-hacker, since she doesn’t feel the need to hide behind piercings, tattoos and a punk hairstyle. The up-and-coming actress is downright frightening as a seemingly typical yuppie whose brief suicidal tendencies and sleepwalking start to come to a dangerous head when she commits an atrocity while in a fugue state. Well, atrocity is a harsh word… Needless to say, if Tatum isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll probably like him in this film more than any other of his career. Then again, since he averages four annually, maybe another of his projects this year will feature him being mutilated in a more creative way.
Either Steven Soderbergh doesn’t like to meet new people or he just happens to cast the same folks again and again, with this being Law’s second Soderbergh film, and the third each for Tatum and Zeta-Jones. OK, they have some catching up to do with George Clooney and Matt Damon, but each of them is getting into a casual groove that could prove good or bad for the future. Soderbergh first-timer Mara makes the movie here, with the director’s style of absolute tranquility mixed with occasional outbursts — enhanced by his own cinematography, under the alias “Peter Andrews” — attuned to her own method. Speaking of frequent collaborators, the screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, who also penned Contagion and The Informant! for the filmmaker, captures a wide range of all-too-true personalities: medical insiders who don’t see the warning signs they should in their patients, drug company reps who are just a legal prescription pad away from being street corner pill-pushers, and the troubled people at the mercy of both of them. And then there comes the matter of who’s screwing whom when all is said and done, an issue which Burns and Soderbergh unravel with workmanlike pacing that’s tripped up only slightly by a few plot points that would raise even Keyser Soze’s eyebrows.
Without the panache Soderbergh always provides, Side Effects would be nothing more than the average pharmacological thriller, if such a genre exists. Still, thanks to his masterful touches here and there, a 106-minute dosage of film is just what the doctor ordered.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Featured photo: Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum star in “Side Effects,” directed by Steven Soderbergh. Photo Credit: Barry Wetcher, Open Road Films 2012.