“Side Effects”, the latest (and possibly last) film from famed director Steven Soderbergh is a story of pharmaceutical conspiracy, intrigue and murder. When a woman suffering from depression visits a new doctor, he puts her on an anti-depression medications. When the medications cause her to start sleep walking, though, there are unforeseen consequences.
Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a young woman with psychological issues. Her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison for insider trading, yet she still finds herself depressed. Suicidal even. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, she’s briefly hospitalized. The psychologist on staff that night, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), allows her to check herself out, provided she agrees to treatment at his private practice twice a week.
Treatment leads to prescriptions. Pills. anti-depressants, specifically. And while she initially struggles with the medication, they eventually settle on Ablixa, a drug which keeps her depression under control. It has a disturbing side effect though… it causes her to sleepwalk. While Dr. Banks searches for a medication to pair with the Ablixa, in order to control her sleepwalking, Emily does something terrible. During a sleepwalking bout, she stabs someone.
What ensues is a legal, psychological and conspiracy thriller. Emily must stand trial for what she did, and her best defense is insanity due to the effects of the drugs. Dr Banks is on trial in the court of public opinion for mistreating her. His practice, his standing, his lucrative clinical trial deals with pharmaceutical companies, even his home life are all endangered by the incident. And of course, there’s the impact on the company that manufactures Ablixa, whose stock price plummets as the result of the negative publicity.
It winds up being a complex film, with a number of twists and turns. The cast (which includes Catherine Zeta-Jones as Emily’s prior therapist) is very good, especially Law, who conveys the indignant rage of an innocent man wronged extremely well. Mara is a bit too absent for my taste, even though I realize she’s supposed to be playing a woman who is basically walking through life alternately depressed, and then tranquilized.
Steven Soderbergh keeps things intriguing with his direction, as always. I love how he uses his scores in his films, it’s always an interesting choice. Here, he barely plays music at all, the film is very, very lightly scored. Almost imperceptible. He gets the most out of his stars and adds great shots here and there to keep you visually intrigued. It’s a shame he’s retiring… I hope a few years off gets him missing things and wanting to get back into the game, because his films are always interesting.
Here, “Side Effects” felt just a tad long to me (and at only 106 minutes, it shouldn’t), even though it was obviously a well done film, with a talented cast. It’s an excellent story, I think it will certainly hold people’s interest. It might just take a little too long to get where its going at the end, but I don’t think that that’s going to derail people’s enjoyment of it. It’s still a thought-provoking, interesting thriller that’s sure to entertain.