Side Effects

side effects poster

I lied in my last post. One thing America seems to love more than guns is pharmaceuticals. In 2012, revenue for the brand name and general pharmaceutical manufacturing industries brought in upwards of $200 billion, and that’s with a slight decline in the brand name industry over the past five years. Don’t believe me about the medicinal presence in American culture? Go watch the nightly news. Almost every commercial will be for some form of drug, from sleeping pills to depression aids and back. So with pharmaceuticals playing such a crucial role in American culture did Steven Soderbergh decide to take a stand in Side Effects against the almighty giants like Pfizer? Not really.



Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) suffers from chronic depression and cannot find a way to break free from the “poisonous fog” clouding her thoughts. Her husband (Channing Tatum) is recently released from jail, but that doesn’t help her. In order to gain some solace, she sees Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes a new drug, Ablixa, which has some curious side effects.

side effects 1

I won’t go into more detail for fear of revealing the plot twists, of which there are multiple with varying degrees of success and failure. Since most of the twists are expected, the latter holds true more often than not. Soderbergh and writer Scott Burns provide a solid setup, despite dumping Emily’s depression on the audience without much of a warning before she is driving her car into a concrete wall. We see her sessions with Dr. Banks and get a slight insight into the effects of a patient’s plight on a therapist’s psyche.

Side Effects moves very slowly, but is ironically gripping only until the “action” begins. When the ominous effects of the drug begin taking hold, the film presents its most intriguing case. Can we fault someone, legally, for actions taken under the influence of prescription medicine, or is the doctor at fault? It’s an interesting proposition that is, unfortunately, dispatched all too quickly.

side effects 2

The real draw of Side Effects lies in Mara and Laws’ performances. No one is playing mentally troubled, yet strong, better than Mara today. You can’t help but see her depression unfold and believe it as a plausible characteristic of the actress, as unfortunate as that sounds. Meanwhile, Law takes his Dr. Watson and backs him into a corner, forcing a fight between professionalism and self-preservation. It works well with Mara’s performance and helps the movie progress, despite all efforts to the contrary from the maudlin Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Side Effects is well-structured in its presentation of information and keeps you engaged in that regard. The problem lies in the content of said information. Some of the twists evoke a scoff of disbelief or display an absurdity that removes you from an otherwise enjoyable film. Soderbergh and Burns tend to ignore the strongest aspects of the script—the pharmaceutical industry’s power and a therapist’s influence— and focus on making a Hollywood thriller instead, which only hurts the final product.

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