Synopsis: A young woman’s world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.
Few directors working today can run the gauntlet of genre cinema like Steven Soderbergh. If you name a genre (with the exception of straight up horror) he has done it. And although it is the mark of a natural storyteller, spreading yourself that thinly across the genre spectrum can lead to lots of mediocre films rather than a few great ones. Rather than being a “Jack of all trades, master of none” though Soderbergh can rightly be proud of a back catalogue that contains more interesting work than stinkers and bores.
His last two films, Contagion and Magic Mike, were both highly entertaining and interesting, adeptly mixing exploitation cinema with social commentary. Contagion in particular was reminiscent of his brilliant multi-strand narco thriller Traffic. His most recent effort, Side Effects, had the potential to be a similarly intriguing and pointed look at the incredibly divisive pharmaceutical industry, their grip on the market of healing sick people and America’s growing dependency on chemical happiness.
And indeed for the first thirty minutes it appeared to be just that as it followed the mental spiral of young Manhattanite Emily (Rooney Mara) as she struggled with the depression onset by her husband’s (Channing Tatum) incarceration for insider trading. And while she feels it a burden, others see it as an opportunity to make money through drug trials and pushing the benefits of the drugs that the pharmaceutical companies are paying the doctors to recommend. Her downfall, however, gains the attention of the wrong people leading to some difficult questions of her Psychiatrist Dr Banks (Jude Law).
Unfortunately what starts out as an intriguing take on the business of medicine quickly turns into a by the numbers thriller, which ultimately culminates in what feels like a mid-90’s late night Cinemax erotic who-dunnit. It’s a shame because as he showed with Contagion it is possible to thrill without steeping to such cheap tactics, which is ultimately what the final 15 minutes feel like. Soderbergh is better than that.
Conclusion: If it had continued on the course it set itself in the first 45 minutes then Side Effects could have been an interesting take on America’s dependency on anti-depressants and the role of big pharmaceuticals. In the end though it was a thriller that wouldn’t look out of place as a TV movie.
Cast: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta Jones, Channing Tatum