'Side Effects' Movie Review: This Movie Isn't a Tough Pill to Swallow


Whenever I see a TV ad for whatever the hot new drug is, I wait until the end of the commercial and carefully listen to the list of possible side effects.

More often than not, it hardly seems worth using the new drug for, let’s say, swollen ankles, if it’s going to cause the consumer nausea, vomiting, and to sprout a new nose. No thanks.

Side Effects, a thriller starring Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, and Rooney Mara, leads the audience on a journey of what-ifs. What if the side effects of this drug were splendid on one end but not so great on the other? What if the side effects were too bizarre for comfort? What if a patient reads all the side effects and it has an inverse-placebo effect on the patient meaning now the patient has all the side-effects?

Buyer beware: This is not a film that only deals with medicine, pharmaceutical companies, and the big business it tends to create. The arc is created around Emily (Mara) apparently suffering from depression and the depths everyone including Martin (Tatum), the doting, formerly federally imprisoned husband who assumes partial responsibility for Emily’s condition, sink to in order to help save her from herself.

How much accountability does psychologist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Law) take for his patient’s actions while under his care? Banks over-extends and possibly compromises himself in an attempt to prescribe the right salve for what ails Emily and the vicious backfire it creates threaten to level his career as well as imprison her. Victoria Siebert, Emily’s former doctor and friend of Dr. Banks, seems like a good person to deflect the burden of responsibility onto when Banks finds his actions under fire. The cunning character is coolly played by Zeta-Jones as she douses any insinuations of her wrongdoing, forcing Banks to reflect upon the consequences of his own actions.

I did not think I would like this film. A slow-starter, I didn’t care enough about the eerily depressed woman, flawlessly played by Rooney Mara, who suffered while waiting for her husband to be released from prison. I blamed her for waiting, not moving on and possibly putting up with him while he works on a plan that will inevitably lead him right back to confinement.

The film was so acutely directed with slight-of-hand by Steven Soderbergh, I didn’t realize it wasn’t part of the film’s momentum for me to care: I just had to take care of watching and let the intelligently complex plot unfurl. What lay after the cylindrical twists to the dénouement was the carnage left behind from an acrimonious relationship gone south and the selfish desires fueled by the one of the most basic human vices; a lust for more.

The film crescendos way beyond the prescription drug-induced haze the working class seems to be happily frolicking in or doctors being paid to prescribe certain medications. The human aspect, the relationships, the ticking your brain must do to see what’s patently clear throughout the movie, but you’ll probably miss the first time, is awesome.