“Side Effects” Review: A Tense, Shape-Shifting Thriller


By Wesley Emblidge

Jude Law in "Side Effects"
Jude Law in “Side Effects”

As a society we trust our doctors with our lives. We get a flu shot because they say we need it, have an operation because they say we’ll die without it, and take medication because they say it’ll help us. We trust them because we don’t really know any better. Sure, they went to medical school and have studied these things, but we’re clueless as to what they’re actually doing and if we need them or not.

Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects” taps into this idea of health treatments possibly being our detriment. It then shifts into more of a legal drama, a mystery, and then finally somewhat of a psychological thriller. It shape shifts constantly, but all the while keeping us hooked and keeping its ideas afloat.

Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns last brought us “Contagion,” which exposed another similar fear we all have: disease. “Contagion” effectively scared me away from touching doorknobs and sent me running at the sound of a cough, but it was also much more straightforward narratively and focused solely on disease.

“Side Effects” centers around a character named Emily (Rooney Mara), whose issues with depression begin to resurface when her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from prison for insider trading. After an attempted suicide she’s forced into therapy sessions with Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who puts her on Ablixa, a new antidepressant. As one might expect from the title, the side effects take a toll on Emily and things begin devolving for her as well as the other characters. To say much more would really ruin the mystery that makes the film so enjoyable, but suffice it to say that the film has no shortage of twists and thought provoking situations.

The whole cast is great, especially Law and Mara. Law is an actor everyone seems to like and yet feel we never see enough of. When he’s great, he only shows up for a bit (like in “Contagion” or “Anna Karenina”) and when he gets substantial screen time lately it’s usually in the “Sherlock Holmes” movies. Meanwhile, Mara had a tremendous breakthrough with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which garnered her an Oscar nomination. Here she fully lives up to that performance by taking on the multi-layered character of Emily who has a lot going on. Mara brings all this to the screen perfectly.

Soderbergh has said this will be his final theatrical release, after an incredible career. In 2001 he was nominated for best director for two films, and ended up winning for “Traffic.” He’s been a highly experimental filmmaker, with movies like “Schizopolis” and his two “Che” films. Over the past two years he’s released four films, and has an HBO movie coming later this year. Soderbergh will be greatly missed, but at least with “Side Effects” he’ll be going out on a strong note.


4/5 Stars