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Side Effects A Refreshing Grown-Up Movie for a Change

Side Effects
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Scott Z. Burns
Open Road, 2013

This is Steven Soderbergh’s next-to-last movie before he does Behind the Candelabra, his Liberace biopic, for HBO.  So in a sense, this is his last feature film for theatres.  And then, we’ll likely see him as a producer.  But it’s very strange when people just come out and announce their retirement from directing or acting…it wouldn’t shock me in the least if we see Soderbergh direct more stuff.  But the guy comes out with 2 movies a year sometimes, so it’s easy to see why he might get burned out on it.

Teaming with his recent go-to writer, Scott Z. Burns, who also wrote Contagion and the fantastic The Informant!, Side Effects begins in a way that sounds like it’s going to be a cautionary tale on the dangers of prescription drugs, sold as long as the side effect warnings are labeled and people know what they might be in for.  However, the movie does have a lot more on its mind than that, and as the plot unfolds, it becomes an even more interesting medical dilemma/drama/mystery than you thought.

Emily Taylor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Rooney Mara) is waiting for her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) to get out of prison for insider trading.  After their reunion, she starts acting strange, running her car into a parking garage wall.  At the hospital, she is put into contact with psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (a tremendous Jude Law), who takes her as a patient and starts prescribing anti-depressants, including a test drug that he’s being paid to offer, although not push, on his patients.  Some of these drugs make her too tired, some make her too energetic, and the one being test-marketed makes her sleepwalk…in dangerous fashion.  Midway through this story, Emily is going to commit a horrible crime.

So, was it the drugs?  Of course it was the drugs, right?  As a lawyer tells Banks, “Either she did this and she’s going to jail for it, or you’re going to be sued for malpractice.  Either way, justice is done.”  Banks is a good doctor, though, and wants what is best.  However, his own investigation into the matter (could Emily be faking?) leads to conflict with Emily’s former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Seibert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and the further Banks delves, the more career-threatening it becomes.  It also threatens his own marriage with Dierdre (Vinessa Shaw), as stories of Banks possibly acting inappropriately with former patients starts to surface.

The ending of this movie is satisfying I suppose, but it gets kind of tabloid-sensationalist.  I guess this is exactly how a story like this would end up being: a circus.  Overall, this is a well-done picture and should entertain most.  Mara and Law are great in this.  Just their performances alone are worth it.

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