Side Effects (2013)

08 March 2013

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Side Effects. Once a successful New York couple, Emily (Rooney Mara) and her husband (Channing Tatum) are now struggling to readjust to life after his recent release from prison. Emily is plagued with a clinical depression and, following a car crash, is referred to respected psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who offers the latest in prescription drugs to try and alleviate her anxiety. 

However as Emily’s relationship with both Dr Banks and her prescribed medication intensifies, she finds herself descending into a chemical-fuelled nightmare where the lines between fantasy and reality become dangerously blurred. From visionary director Steve Soderbergh comes a riveting psychological thriller where neither the symptoms nor the cure are quite as straightforward as they seem.

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"The strongest aspect to Side Effects certainly comes from the performances, as Mara and Law both shine..."

After what has been a relatively long, and certainly triumphant career, Oscar winning director Steven Soderbergh has finally decided to call it a day, as the man who has brought us the likes of Traffic, Ocean's Eleven and Magic Mike returns with what he claims to be his very final feature, in crime thriller Side Effects.

Rooney Mara plays Emily, who despite being reunited with her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) following his stint in prison, struggles to overcome her latest bout of depression, and with an unsuccessful suicide attempt, she seeks help from psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). The specialist prescribes his new patient with an experimental new drug named Ablixa – however the side effects to this relatively untested anti-depressant causes Emily to sleepwalk, and when in this state, she murders her husband. As Emily has no recollection of what’s occurred, the fingers are being pointed in the direction of Dr. Banks, and despite his professional reputation crumbling beneath him, he remains determined to single-handedly get to the bottom of this contentious state of affairs.

Side Effects works well as a satirical piece of cinema, delving not only into the pharmaceutical world, and America's relationship with therapy (particularly when compared to how seeking psychiatric help is perceived in Britain – a theme explored in the film) but also in regards to how the press and public opinion can escalate a story and, in effect, ruin somebody’s life. However the film soon turns from a somewhat generic drama, into a full blown mystery thriller, and it's brilliant when you see this turning point in the film.

That said, when events unravel in the final third, Side Effects starts to lose the plot (literally). There is no denying that the audience are kept guessing throughout, and Soderbergh has certainly presented an intelligent piece, yet he simply attempts too much and suddenly any hope of a simplistic finale is thrown out of the window, as we tail off dramatically, losing touch with the story at hand. Nonetheless, the film carries on at a consistent pace, helped along by a technique whereby Soderbergh overlaps various scenes, as we hear the dialogue from the upcoming sequence before the visual is in place, making for a seamless picture, and allowing for a good, steady flow.

The strongest aspect to Side Effects certainly comes from the performances, as Mara and Law both shine. Mara gets her character spot on, as she is fragile and vulnerable in many instances, but remains cold behind the eyes – and the audience always believe she may not be all she seems. As for Law, he is given the platform to use his natural charm and charisma to its full effect, as the part requires someone who is reassuring and convincing: we need to believe that he has that persuasiveness that allows for his patients to take his medication, but we also need to rely on him, as we attempt to get to the bottom of these events through his perspective, identifying with his obsessive pursuit for the truth.

So in what is supposedly Soderbergh's final feature, it's safe to say that he isn't leaving on a bum-note, nor is he leaving on a particularly high one. Instead (and this is much like his previous run of titles) it lingers unashamedly in the middle somewhere. However this does remain a film worth seeing, though side effects in this instance may include feeling bored on occasion, getting confused in the later stages, oh, and occasional sightings of Channing Tatum. Enjoy.

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