Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta Jones
The camera creeps through an apartment window, where a model boat sits on a chair complete with a card and bow. All is calm and still. The camera moves to the ground as the hardware floors are consumed by blood. Bare footprints lead us into another room. There’s no sign of panic, no sign of breakage and no sign of struggle. Two questions arise – who’s there and what crime has occurred?
The opening to Soderbergh’s Side Effects is creepy, giving away nothing but a sense of unease. Now the trailer may have hooked you in to this movie, but in essence it also deceived you. The trailer is merely your trial run of the drug, the beginning is the side effect, and the end is the withdrawal as you attempt to come down from the high that the initial drug (in this case the trailer) put you on.
From the opening we’re taken back three months where we meet Rooney Mara’s character, Emily. She’s visiting her husband Martin (Channing Tatum), who’s currently serving four years in prison for insider trading. They’re both anxious about seeing each another, in addition to his imminent prison discharge. When Martin is released he promises he will get them back to where they once were, though Emily is overwhelmed by the situation. After driving her car into a wall, she’s taken to hospital with minor injuries and is introduced to Dr Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist who believes this was a cry for help from the anxiety of her husband’s release from prison. Emily however convinces Dr Banks that is was a mistake and promises to make an appointment with him in the future. Dr Banks agrees to this and has a meeting with Emily the following week. He begins to learn that Emily has been in a fragile state for quite some time and he prescribes her pills before sending her back to her previous psychiatrist, Doctor Seibert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Seibert advises Banks that the drugs won’t work, as they didn’t before, and suggests a new drug called Ablixa.
At first the drug works wonders, but soon the side effects begin to kick in and Martin catches Emily sleepwalking during the night, a heavy effect from the Ablixa drug. Martin voices his concerns with Dr Banks but Emily is adamant that she wants to continue taking it. Soon the side effects begin to control Emily’s life and the next time she sleep walks a terrible incident takes place – but who is to blame? Is it Emily, the drug or the Doctor who prescribed it?
There are some great twists and turns in Side Effects, as we witness the plights of each character involved. It highlights the dangers of prescription drugs and the decisions that Doctors have to make on a daily basis, dividing audiences with the questions of morality it raises. It’s a psychological thriller that really works your mind.
At the beginning Rooney Mara is the central character, but by the end it’s Jude Law and both actors lead the film strongly. Mara is very convincing as a depressed, sour faced woman, fighting a constant battle with her subconscious. She impressed audiences in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and, although this role isn’t quite as flamboyant, she really does showcase her talents well. Jude Law manages to bring us into his corner and we really do want him to prove that he’s not to blame for the unfortunate events that take place. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum, both of whom have smaller roles, possibly play the most pivotal characters. Both give solid performances, especially Jones who had the look and persona of a smarmy arrogant Doctor still clinging to youth.
Side Effects has been touted as Soderbergh’s last film and, if it is, it’s a crying shame. This is his best film to date; Soderbergh directs with professionalism and he understands the contemporary, psychological, and moral themes that Scott Z. Burn’s script highlights.
This is how psychological thrillers should be done. Despite the lack of action, we’re gripped from the beginning until the final frame. It plays out like a drug and right now I’m having withdrawal symptoms.
Bravo Mr Soderbergh, bravo.