Title: Side Effects
Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Thriller
Director(s): Steven Soderbergh
Release Year: 2013
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
As the opening scene of Side Effects plays out, we are thrust into a state of intrigue. Structured like a puzzle, Soderbergh wants us to feel out of our element and wonder where this film is going to go. The movie seemingly resolves in an ending that adds nothing, but then goes back in for a second take, delivering a more satisfying ending, if not a little more on the ridiculous side. Soderbergh is in complete control here though, as he works with Scott Z. Burns’s script and turns it into a well-crafted thriller that unfortunately does feel a little too by-the-numbers for the majority of it. If it wasn’t for the director on board, this script would likely have become as generic a thriller as can be, but because of Soderbergh’s distinct cinematography and a cast that feels completely invested in their characters, Side Effects is very much more than just another bland thriller.
As one can presume from the title, the film takes a look into the pharmaceutical industry and the corruption within, as well as a look into what one mistake can do to those administering the medicine. Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, the wife of Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) who has recently been released from prison. Emily suffers from depression and has taken many anti-depressants, but none have any beneficial outcomes. After an accident due to her depression, she begins to see Jonathon Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist who wants to help her feel better. After a series of trials, he prescribes her a new drug called Ablixa upon her request, and she is soon feeling much better. The couple are again able to enjoy themselves, and she’s feeling more chipper than ever since her husband’s arrest. From here on out, Side Effects starts questioning whether or not you can believe what is happening as Emily finds herself in a predicament that confuses her and puts Jonathon at risk of losing all he has worked for.
Admittedly, the movie takes a little bit of time to get into the thriller aspects here, but it tides you over by relying on a cast that is so damn good. Rooney Mara is pretty much just mopey a lot of the time due to being depressed, but she manages to flourish in her very isolated role. Catherine Zeta-Jones also plays a fair-sized role here as a fellow psychiatrist who seems more interested in the financial aspect of psychiatry than the moral elements. And rounding out the cast is Channing Tatum who plays a small role, but works with it as much as he can as a man arrested for inside trading and has to wrestle with a depressed wife and rebuilding his life. It is Jude Law’s performance, though, that stands out most. He shows a side of psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry that many films haven’t shown lately, which is refreshing, as issues dealt within films usually only show corruption within politicians and law enforcement. Once Side Effects switches to Jonathon’s perspective, it becomes clear that there’s a lot more to this plot than meets the eye. As his character wrestles with what the truth may cost him, and just how “dirty” his profession can get, you feel how much is at stake.
But of course, all of this is aided by the wonderful cinematography from Soderbergh, as he works the camera to great effect, utilizing a soft focus to give everything a stylized, almost dream-like feeling. Everything is crafted in the exact way you’d expect from the famed director, showing exactly why it might be that he is leaving film after his next project. Nothing feels new, it just feels extremely well-polished, which is something that Magic Mike from last year also had the benefit of encapsulating (a movie that also delved deeper into a world most have very little knowledge about). If it’s not the fast-paced caper-like style of 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven, then it’s exactly the slow-moody style that Soderbergh implements in Side Effects. The opening and closing shots hearken a Rear Window-vibe but everything else feels wholly Soderbergh, which is not a complaint, just an observation.
All in all, Side Effects shows us that Soderbergh is as assured as ever. He manages to take a script that would not have been anywhere near as great in most other director’s hands, and turn it into a neatly-packaged addition to the thriller genre. As an exploration of the pharmaceutical industry, it’s more entertaining than watching an intrepid reporter reveal the corruption behind the scenes, and as a smart thriller, it manages to keep the audience shrouded in mystery until the final moments. It isn’t anything you should rush out to see, but its cast and director make the movie feel just within reach of being an entertaining popcorn flick that has both brains and style, something that a lot of the films that come out at this time of year are lacking.