Feb 272013

side_effects_review1If something horrific happens when a patient is taking a drug, where does the blame sit? With the drugs, the doctor, the patient or a combination of all three? Find out in my review of Side Effects after the jump.

Emily (Rooney Mara) married Martin (Channing Tatum) at the age of 23, after a whirlwind romance. However, her perfect life is soon shattered when Martin is imprisoned for insider trading. Four years on and Martin is released into what he hopes are the welcoming and loving arms of his wife.

Not long after his release, Emily attempts suicide. We quickly learn that she has a history of depression, and has previously received treatment. She is assessed at the hospital by Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who releases her on the provision she attends regular therapy sessions with him. Emily is barely holding it together, so after consulting with her previous doctor (Catherine Zeta Jones) Dr Banks prescribes her Ablixa, a new drug which has a rather serious side effect that was unknown to him when he prescribed it.

An event happens and all of their lives spiral out of control. Is Emily responsible for her actions, or can they be blamed solely on Ablixa? Is Dr Banks’s incompetent treatment the real root of the problem, and should he be held liable for not taking her off the drug? Or is there something else at play all together?


Side Effects is director Steven Soderbergh’s final feature film (according to this interview), and he couldn’t have made a film which looks and feels more like one of his films if he had tried. Within the first few minutes the muted colour palette is established, and the world on the screen is painted as a very bleak place indeed. Yellows, greens and greys – colours of sickness and pain, are prominent, with brighter colours only coming in at appropriately “brighter” moments.

There are also the expected “experimental shots” – weird angles, characters off screen/at the edge of the frame etc Sometimes these shots are fantastic and give you a different perspective on the scene; but other times they pull you out of the film completely and make you think, “what was he trying to do there?”

Soderbergh has also bought back many actors who he has worked with in past films, such as Jude Law and Channing Tatum, who have both worked with the director in the last 18 months. Law is the stand out in this film. He plays the embattled doctor with conviction; and while it initially starts off as Emily’s film, it quickly becomes his. His moods are as erratic and all over the place as some of his patients, and he seems to have a real human reaction to the most outrageous of situations. I really liked this character. Tatum is again charming, while Mara shows us she can play a character with both warmth and bite. I thought Zeta Jones was overacting a little; however her character is over the top and a quite unbelievable – she’s easily the weakest link in the story.

channing tatum side effects

While Side Effects starts off as a drama centred a young couple dealing with some issues, it slowly morphs into a thriller that unfortunately thinks it is a whole lot smarter than it actually is. I was with the film for the first hour, but then it twisted the story, and then twisted it again, and then again. By the time the final act came I had long checked out. There was absolutely no need to make the story so convoluted. It went from a compelling drama with thriller elements, to an absurd and 2am Sunday morning made-for-TV thriller.

Side Effects had the right ingredients for a great film, but somehow they didn’t quite come together properly. I really hope that Soderbergh doesn’t bow out on this one.




By Sam McCosh


The Facts

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer(s): Scott Z. Burns (screenplay)
Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta Jones
Runtime: 106 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: February 28 2013; New Zealand: May 9 2013; USA: February 8 2013