Supposedly this was “Steven Soderbergh’s” final film (not sure how much truth there is to that). “Side Effects” stars Jude Law ( Enemy at the gates, Closer and Sleuth), Rooney Mara (Nightmare on elm st, Girl with the dragon tattoo), Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta Jones.
I have to admit I set the bar pretty high with my expectations for this film. With a good solid cast Soderbergh has the ability to set a great mood and perfect pacing. Once again he manages to do this with a great opening act. We are introduced to Emily Taylor (played with real realistic vacancy by Mara). She is visiting her husband Martin (Tatum) who is on the verge of being released from Prison. We don’t know the full extent of why he has been in jail.
What we do know is that Emily is suffering from a deep depression, the causes of which are unknown. At the same time well-respected Psychiatrist Jonathon Banks, played by Jude Law in yet another consistently solid performance. After showing suicidal tendencies and an accident, Emily is hospitalized. After a short period of time she agrees to have therapy sessions with Dr Banks only so she can be released from care.
All this sets up the second act, this portion of the film begins to slowly uncover the deeper and darker secrets of Mara’s character. We get a glimpse into the home life of Jonathon (or lack of..) as well as some input from Catherine Zeta Jones. She plays Dr Victoria Siebert, Emily’s former doctor. I’m not sure why there was never a reason given for their therapy sessions ending? Although now having seen the film, I can probably see why. What Soderbergh does with the style is makes us feel uneasy and vacant. He achieves this with his distorted camera work, losing focus and shooting back into focus. It really helps you understand the position of someone suffering depression. How they go about navigating their way through the various prescription drugs and side effects.
I thought the score was bland but at the same time was probably enough of a backing for the story. I didn’t feel the tension from Law, I think his character was written in such a way that you knew he would make the typical errors. He begins trusting the wrong people, trying to prove his innocence through everything. In the process he is making himself look guilty in some way, shape or form. I would have liked to see Steven avoid making this trite move and give his characters more credibility.
I thought the acting from all involved to be very consistent. I think the film’s running time is perhaps 15 or 20 minutes to long. The main issue for me is (without spoilers!) by the time we get to the third act and the post trial events are revealed, I had began to pick what was going to occur, several leads with certain characters are abandoned without warning.
For the most part I think the characters written in this film don’t have enough depth or even likeable characteristics to root for them. The motives seem very bland and cliché. Does everything have to be about money? It could be that it’s the only reason they need, but it loses points for originality. We never found out was Emily pregnant? Do we know? Are we supposed to know? Was it relevant to the story? I think it could have been if they were clear on the circumstances with any of the event in question. It would give Emily a human quality that we as an audience could connect with.
For the viewers to go through the journey with her, we need to be able to relate to her. The reasons she has for the actions she takes are just to one-dimensional. I make mention that Channing Tatum as her husband was above average with what he had to work with. Although I really don’t see how we were supposed to get on board with the idea of his character being to blame so many things in the film. If we were suppose to believe that, he needed to be a much more pivotal reference point throughout the film.
However, I have definitely seen much worse films, it is by no means a poor film. I thought from reviews I read about it labelled a psychological trip, fun twists and turns and a unique script… hmm I’m not to sure I agree with that.
I think you would be better off watching a film like “Primal Fear” or “Awake”. They are both a much better, more interesting look at the use of drugs and psychological personas.
My rating for “Side Effects” is 5.5/10