US Release Date: 02-08-2013
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
- Jude Law, as
- Dr. Jonathan Banks
- Rooney Mara, as
- Emily Taylor
- Catherine Zeta-Jones, as
- Dr. Victoria Siebert
- Channing Tatum, as
- Martin Taylor
- Vinessa Shaw, as
- Dierdre Banks
- Polly Draper, as
- Emily's boss
- David Costabile, as
- Carl Millbank
- Carmen Pelaez, as
- Prison Desk Guard
- Haraldo Alvarez, as
- Garage Attendant
- Vladimi Versailles, as
- Michelle Vergara Moore, as
- James Martinez, as
- Police Officer at Hospital
- Victor Cruz, as
- NYPD Officer Beahan
- Ann Dowd as
- Martin's Mother
Jude Law in Side Effects.
Steven Soderbergh's latest starts out as a heavy-handed indictment of prescription drugs and then segues into a run-of-the-mill murder mystery. It's paced a bit methodically and the plot twists are fairly predictable. Add in a rather unlikable protagonist in the guise of Jude Law's psychiatrist and the result is this mediocre film.
The movie begins with what appears to be a murder scene. We are shown a bloodstained apartment floor. The camera then pans along the floor following bloody footprints down a hallway. We then flash back three months in time. Rooney Mara plays a young wife whose husband (Channing Tatum making his annual appearance during the dead months of the movie calendar) has just been released from prison after serving four years for insider trading. After a few scenes of character introduction we learn that this woman is very troubled. In an apparent suicide attempt she drives her car headlong into the brick wall of a parking garage.
Enter Jude Law as the doctor that examines her. He begins treating her and puts her on a new antidepressant drug made by a company he is working as a paid consultant for. One side effect of this drug is somnambulism (sleepwalking). Without giving too much away this leads directly to the opening scene where we learn just what happened in that bloody apartment.
From here the story becomes a murder mystery with a few twists it telegraphs in advance for anyone who's seen many movies. Although it does improve on the rather preachy and plodding first half of the story, to be honest the plot of Side Effects reminded me of a one hour television crime drama stretched to fill out a feature length movie.
The cast is game. Rooney Mara plays depressed naturally enough. Jude Law -and the script- make it difficult to root for Dr. Banks as he's so self-absorbed and smug, though he is the nominal hero of the piece. I've been pretty rough on Channing Tatum's acting ability in the past but I have to admit he's improved. He actually seems quite natural and believable in this role. Catherine Zeta-Jones does her usual job of flamboyant overacting. Her scenes are never dull. She is a gloriously old-fashioned Movie Star and I hope she never changes. I would love to see her keep playing parts like this for another 40 years.
The cast at least makes it interesting but the weak script keeps Side Effects from being one of Steven Soderbergh's better movies.
Rooney Mara in Side Effects.
Like Patrick, I was struck by the seeming heavy-handed condemnation of the pharmaceutical/psychiatric industries during the first half of this film. I was starting to wonder if the film was produced by the Church of Scientology. That turns out to be a bit of a MacGuffin though, and while it still seems to be poking fun at the frequency and ease with which mood altering drugs are prescribed, it's really setting the audience up to believe one thing before the twist is revealed later.
The murder mystery is weak in several ways. As Patrick mentioned, once it becomes apparent that there is a mystery, the solution to that mystery seems pretty obvious. The actual murder itself, while it seems carefully planned, relies on the reaction of the victim behaving in a specific way that wouldn't have been truly predictable. The other, and perhaps weakest, problem with the mystery is, as Patrick also mentioned, that Law's Dr. Banks feels smug and smarmy to such a degree that I actually wanted the film's villains to get away with their crime just so he wouldn't triumph.
Unlike Patrick, I saw nothing in Channing Tatum's performance that made me change my mind about his acting ability. His part is small though and Law and Mara are the true stars, both of whom do good work. With this role and Lisbeth Salander, Rooney Mara is starting to build a niche for herself as darker characters. Law also delivers a solid performance as the supposed protagonist, even if, as I mentioned, he's not particularly likable.
Director Steven Soderbergh has said in interviews that he may retire from making movies. It isn't the first time he's made such statements and who knows if he really means it now. If he does though, he won't exactly be going out on a high note. For a February release, Side Effects isn't bad, but it's sure not a classic either.
Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum in Side Effects
Steven Soderbergh has built a resume of films that seem as much like a list of front page newspaper articles as it does a filmography. Erin Brockovich (2000) is about environmental pollution. Traffic (2000) deals with the war on drugs. The fear of an epidemic is brought to fruit in Contagion (2011). A real life whistle blower was portrayed in The Informant! (2009). Now with Side Effects, he takes on the hot topic of the the drug pushing pharmaceutical industry.
As my brothers wrote, this film is very much critical of the pharmaceutical/psychiatric business by showing how casually so many people use over the counter drugs. At one point, Dr. Banks gives his wife a pill she does not even recognize, but she eagerly takes it with her husband explaining, "It just makes you easier to be who you are." Side Effects has a scene where we see how pharmaceutical companies buy doctors like sailors buying a prostitute. If a doctor is willing to endorse and prescribe a particular med, the manufacturer is willing to give them trips, gifts and even cold hard cash.
To discuss this film some spoilers are revealed.
Side Effects also shows how mental instability and medication often gets used as excuses for bad behavior. Dr. Banks explains to the police that Emily's medication for depression has side effects that could explain her actions. A detective responds to him,"Either she is a murderer or a victim of her medical treatment." Which means Banks could get nearly as much blame for what happened as Emily.
It has been reported that the Newtown school killer Adam Lanza had a psychiatric history that involved medication. Columbine shooters Eric Harris was on the antidepressant Luvox when he and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher. It was also reported that Klebold took the antidepressants Paxil and Zoloft.
Side Effects starts as an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, but by the end it kind of defends it by showing how meds were just a prop, motive and excuse used by the murderer. We are even shown a Wall Street connection. Side Effects is not a great film but it may encourage some conversations.
Photos © Copyright Open Road Films (2013)