Steven Soderbergh’s fourth film in two years might be his best bet for mutual love from critics and audiences. Released on Feb. 8, “Side Effects” is smart, engaging, and surprising. The first third of the film challenges current thoughts about mental illness and drugs but the tone begins to change ever so slightly as the protagonist switches; it becomes a thriller and you question what you know.
Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) had her life turned upside-down when her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) goes to jail for insider trading, so she began to see Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). When Martin is released four years later and her medical insurance has ceased, Emily has mixed feelings and is overwhelmed. After a suicide attempt, Emily meets psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) and is required to visit him regularly to focus on medicating her moods. When Emily murders her husband in a side effect-induced trance, Emily and Dr. Banks are investigated. Dr. Banks starts his own examination of the events in order to clear his responsibility and conscience.
There are a couple of truly shocking moments in “Side Effects.” Audible gasps from the entire audience occurred at one pivotal moment. Comparisons are being made to Hitchcock’s work, which seems mostly accurate in that it is a great thriller; it’s much more complicated than most of Hitchcock’s works. It would be like merging four of Hitchcock’s films into one; “Side Effects” is like “Vertigo” mixed with “Spellbound,” a hint of “Notorious,” and a dabbling of “Dial M for Murder.” The sum is worth the total of its parts without being inconsistent. The shifts are smart but more intriguing. It isn’t what it starts out to be; it transforms.
Though one would expect this to be a film criticizing the pharmaceutical industry, it is much more of a thriller than a social criticism; it begins by painting a somewhat critical or at least cautious presentation, but then it converts into a thriller with energy. “Side Effects” has modern style and is very current.
As per Soderbergh’s norm, he coaxes spectacular performances out of his actors. Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones meet their expected standards and Tatum has obviously impressed Soderbergh if he’s been in three of his last four movies (“Haywire” and “Magic Mike” are the other two). Most impressive, however, is Rooney Mara; she proves she is not a one-hit wonder after her Oscar-nominated performance in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
No, “Side Effects” doesn’t have the most shocking twists and turns, but the film fluidly transitions those twists into a well-thought story. At this time of year of repeated Oscar hopefuls, atrocious Hollywood comedies, and otherwise horrible films, “Side Effects” is a fresh, pleasing surprise.
Rating for “Side Effects:” A-
For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.
“Side Effects” is playing at the Drexel, Gateway, and pretty much every theater in Columbus. For showtimes, click here.