Ask Your Doctor
A thriller to its core, Side Effects focuses on the very real effects that drugs can have on a person’s life and, in a surprising way, the importance of reputation. Every time the plot begins to solidify, another twist occurs, shifting the story and leaving the viewer too busy keeping up with each detail to begin speculating about how it will undoubtedly end.
The story begins with Martin (Channing Tatum) getting out of jail to the great pleasure of his girlfriend, Emily (Rooney Mara). It is an idyllic situation until Emily, overwhelmed with a long-lasting depression, tries to kill herself. Enter Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Emily is released from the hospital to return to her life with Martin on the condition that she continue to see Dr. Banks for help. The result is a twisted pseudo-noir of medications, mental illness, manipulation, ethics, and just how far someone will go to get what they want.
Steven Soderbergh directs, adding Side Effects to his recent eclectic mix of the virus thriller Contagion, the well cast but poorly received action Haywire, and the male stripper comedy Magic Mike. The subtle coloring and lighting of each mood throughout the film is brilliantly executed and the cinematography matches Soderbergh’s usual work. Even without sound, Side Effects would still produce a level of enjoyment in its visual stimulation and camera angles that always leave you wanting to see just a little bit more without depriving you of anything at all.
The music, too, added to the film’s overall presentation. The score is not necessarily one to cherish, but its swells and crescendos kept perfect time with the images presented on screen to create a beautiful sense of overall consistency. You knew the importance of each moment, even if you were still working on what it meant. Occasionally the film crossed the line into the territory of telling the audience how to feel, but that only made the questioning of this automated mood and the twist to come all that more effective.
Mara and Law were both phenomenal in their turns as patient and doctor, respectively. Even Tatum’s often non-reaching performance suited his character in the film, casting him as ideal for the role if not one of the stronger actors aboard. Ann Dowd’s shift from her acclaimed role in Compliance last year to Martin’s mother here subtly display’s the actress’s prowess. It seems that only Catherine Zeta-Jones stands out for her lesser performance, the generally domineering bombshell cast in a suit and glasses and expected to be taken seriously as a psychiatrist.
The demonstration of mental illness in the film is handled with great care, though some later twists somewhat undercut the strength with which it is initially portrayed. It may be difficult to reconcile the film’s initial portrayal of depression with its latter summation of the story; remember that this is a Hollywood production and allows itself a great deal of creative license.
When the doctor’s methods are eventually called into question, the film takes a hard look at ethics and reputation. How one achieves ones’ ends is scrutinized from every angle and every side, blurring the lines between good and bad people, the right and the wronged. Reputation becomes more important than truth in a way that accurately reflects American society but which may become uncomfortable to be faced with for any who have caved to such media manipulations.
The script, by writer Scott Z. Burns’, leaves something to be desired. While some scenes and the overall plot are woven with great care, other scenes felt clunky and with dialogue forced upon the actors by someone unfamiliar with such a situation.
In the end, both Soderbergh and Burns bring a strong history of unique stories and the determination to pursue the story to its fullest end, whatever that may be. This film is a psychological thriller, bordering on noir, that is worth seeing for any who want just a little more from their average, movie-going experience.