Side Effects ****



Run Time: 106 mins            Cert: 15


Synopsis: When psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) prescribes an experimental drug to Emily (Rooney Mara) to treat her depression, there are profound consequences for all parties involved.


Directed by Steven Soderbergh and said to be his last project, “Side Effects” tells the story of Emily (Rooney Mara), a 28-year-old woman whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released after four years in prison for insider trading. Emily becomes depressed and injures herself, resulting in her being taken to hospital and referred to psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Having unsuccessful tried several antidepressants, Dr Banks agrees to put Emily on a new drug called Ablixa that has been recommended by her previous psychiatrist Victoria (Catherine Zeta-Jones). At first it seems to have benefits for Emily but side effects soon occur and she kills her husband while sleepwalking. The remainder of the film centres around what really happened and whether Dr Banks is to blame as he prescribed the drug.


Thrilling and unpredictable, “Side Effects” keeps the audience in suspense until the very end. To begin with it seems a straightforward story: Emily is struggling with depression and is prepared to try any drug that will fix this so she and Martin can get on with their life. However as the film progresses it becomes clear things are more complicated and the twists lead to a surprise ending.


A theme that crops up repeatedly during the film is the extent to which the American health care industry focuses on money. There are scenes in which doctors are shown being offered large sums to try out drugs on their patients and when Emily requests the new drug, she is given it without proper discussion of the medication or its side effects. This leads the viewer to question Dr Banks’ motives: is her wellbeing his priority or is he seeing dollar signs?


Effects in the movie are minimal but Soderbergh creates a almost eerie feel by having the main scenes in very intimate settings such as bedrooms, doctors’ offices and a psychiatric hospital. There are times when the viewer will feel like they are literally in the room with the characters.


Rooney Mara gives a strong performance as Emily. Her character is portrayed as both the despairing and depressed woman who’s lost her rich lifestyle and the sly and twisted one that has everyone fooled. As the story unfolds, the audience will go from feeling sorry for Emily to questioning her true character. Catherine Zeta-Jones also performs well as psychiatrist Victoria who seems to conveniently “pop up”  at regular intervals and has mannerisms that could make the viewer’s skin crawl.


Of all the actors, Jude Law’s performance is probably the weakest. His character doesn’t show much emotion even when it appears he’s lost everything and Law seems rather wooden throughout the film. Despite being written out before the halfway point, Channing Tatum gives a reasonably good performance as Emily’s disgraced but concerned husband Martin. Vinessa Shaw also gives a realistic portrayal Dr Banks’ wife Deirdre, who wants to root for her husband but doesn’t know what to believe.


“Side Effects” is entertaining and has all the characteristics of a good psychological thriller. For those who enjoy films that keep them guessing it is a must see.


Reviewed by Lesley Logan

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