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Side Effects

2013 | 106 min | R | 1.85:1

Side Effects


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User reviews

1 user review

Movie appeal

Psychological thriller30%



Theatrical release date

 08 February, 2013
 08 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Screenshots from Side Effects Blu-ray

Side Effects Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 7, 2013

If there’s any filmmaker working today who should go after the labyrinthine pharmaceutical industry, it’s Steven Soderbergh. A helmer who enjoys the challenges of cinematic control and thematic precision, Soderbergh knows how to wield a whip. Unfortunately, “Side Effects” is a mystery with only a fringe appreciation of pills and the process of medical zombification, using the elements as a Trojan Horse to smuggle in a routine thriller that sinisterly slides into view after a particularly haunting opening half. While it seems like material with a lot on its mind about the state of the world, “Side Effects” would rather work out an implausible scheme of betrayals, robbing the audience of the agitation they deserve.

After four years spent alone, working a job she’s not interested in, Emily (Rooney Mara) is ready to welcome her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), home from prison, where he was locked up for insider trading. Ready to move on with her life, Emily fights an increasingly persistent bout of depression, considering suicide on two occasions. Placed into the care of Dr. Banks (Jude Law), Emily works through a series of prescriptions, with the mix of pills unable to clear her funk, frustrating Martin and bewildering Dr. Banks. However, one drug eventually manages to clear the clouds, recommended by Emily’s former therapist, Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), which allows Emily to live with clarity. However, a sleepwalking side effect emerges, with Emily waking up one morning to find her husband stabbed to death, while Dr. Banks fears the oncoming surge of blame will ultimately come to challenge his medical expertise.

I’m going to do my best to keep the surprises of “Side Effects” secret, as much of Scott Z. Burns’s screenplay is dedicated to plot twists and turns that steamroll across a minefield of spoilers. However, to fully inspect the picture requires some divulging of the facts, establishing that the movie commences as a tense psychological thriller about Emily and her fight to find salvation through pills, only to conclude as a game of wits, with the iffy characters squaring off against one another as the onion layers are peeled and truths are revealed.

The opening half of “Side Effects” certainly captures today’s culture of overmedication, exposing medical professionals as dubious individuals out to line their own pockets with easy cash, in cahoots with drug companies looking to wrangle patients for trials they wouldn’t otherwise go near without their doctor’s guidance. Dr. Banks is one such fellow, facing mounting bills due to his wife’s (Vinessa Shaw) unemployment, eagerly accepting a large sum of money to help introduce new pills on the market, blurring the line between advocate and salesman. It’s a ripe topic to explore, especially paired with Emily’s story, finding the young, fragile woman ingesting all types of medicine to combat her depression, fighting through determined illness and frustration to locate the magic button that melts all the evil away and restores her verve for life. She catches a spot of luck in a frightfully agreeable pill, thrilling Martin and pleasing Dr. Banks, who largely ignores Emily’s sleepwalking problem out of fear that any cut in her supply will return her to the dark, possibly for good.

Soon, there’s a dead body and a whole lot of blame passed around, moving “Side Effects” away from an intriguing critique of the pharmaceutical industry and its “Dr. Mario” style approach to stacking pills to a conventional mystery that moves from Emily’s escalation of distress to Dr. Banks’s world of gradual panic and succession of betrayals. Again, I don’t want to spoil much, but the second half of the film downshifts into some rather formulaic events, challenging the reality of the conflict. Burns scrubs away the individuality of the early going to serve up banal courtroom encounters, testy lawyer banter, and instances of blackmail that open up questions of plausibility that Soderbergh can’t answer with his candied cinematography and idiosyncratic editorial timing. “Side Effects” goes from a nail-biter to a watch-checker the farther it strays from its initial objective, finally settling on a weird scheme of revenge even the actors seem a little baffled with.

On the plus side, the mid-movie switch does permit more time with Law, who’s sensational as the good doctor with a weakness for helpless women. Gracefully developing a crushing sense of paranoia that borders on madness in the third act, Law colors his character carefully, eager to keep Dr. Banks a multifaceted man who’s stepped into a legal and emotional bear trap with his newest patient. Less impressive is Mara, who’s robotic as Emily, failing to communicate the two sides of the woman, maintaining a single droning pitch to her performance that dilutes the tense thriller inclinations of the script. She’s bland, not right for a part that demands a subtle gun-barrel click of temperament, able to play on sympathies and trigger suspicion, often in the same moment. A supporting cast of famous faces adds to the cause, but “Side Effects” is only truly alive when firmly secured to Law and his wonderful way of expressing complete disbelief.

“Side Effects” walks and talks like a traditional Soderbergh production, but he’s unable to conjure a cohesive atmosphere to the production, eventually driving on four flat tires by the end of the picture. It’s an interesting swipe at the secretive, manipulative medication industry, yet “Side Effects” only really concentrates on the drug game for about an hour. After that, it’s a glorified Lifetime Movie with an A-list cast and a host of secrets better left unrevealed.

Starring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Vinessa Shaw, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Katie Lowes
Director: Steven Soderbergh

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Side Effects, Forum Discussions

Last post
Side Effects 98 Apr 17, 2013

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