Being seen as director Steven Soderbergh’s final venture into theaters, Side Effects is a difficult movie to take out of context. On the one hand, you have a perfectly enjoyable thriller set against the backdrop of behavioral disorders and the dirty little secrets of the pharmaceutical industry. On the other hand, this is the swan song of one of the most stylish and dependable-if-not-visionary directors in recent memory; I expected something more substantial.
Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) should be happier than she is. Her successful and loving husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just returned home from prison following an insider trading scandal, and the couple is finally seeing a return to their once great lives on the horizon. However, the cold-water re-introduction to her upper class life overstimulates Emily to the point of crippling panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and bipolar behavior. Emily chooses to see a different psychiatrist (Jude Law) than her former doc (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to alleviate the severity of her disorders. He prescribes her Ablixa, a new drug on the market, after being financially incentivized by the manufacturer to “beta” the product. Unfortunately for Emily and the good-natured Dr. Jonathan Banks, Ablixa’s infancy proves to have some side effects (cue the ominous movie score!!)
Going into any greater detail would spoil the several twists to be had in Side Effects, though they certainly aren’t the only reasons to see the movie. Channing Tatum seems more confident in his acting choices than ever, no doubt due to the tenured relationship with Soderbergh. Rooney Mara proves to be one of the finest young actresses working right now and her performance is absolutely riveting in this film. Jude Law is phenomenal as Dr. Banks, who is very identifiable in his naivety, yet consistently surprising in his decisions when pressure is applied. Zeta-Jones is dangerously effective with little screen time as Emily’s former doctor and Banks’ informal consultant. And all of these characters are bathed in the cold but classic Soderbergh style.
It feels like I’m gushing about this movie, but in all honesty, there was much meatier material to explore than the Primal Fear meets Fatal Attraction story that Side Effects ends up being. Pharmaceutical companies essentially bribing doctors to push their drugs seems like a subject too interesting to be resorted to a side-plot. The ramifications of families broken up by white-class crime also seemed ripe for storytelling. Instead, Soderbergh goes out on a good but forgettable note, and Side Effects, while well-written and directed, breaks no new ground or leaves any profound message on the audience. When the credits rolled, I shrugged my shoulders in vague satisfaction and shuffled out of the theater… perhaps it’s just the side effects of Ablixa (cue the ominous movie score!!).