Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) has been losing a battle with depression, and when her stockbroker husband (Channing Tatum) is released from prison for insider trading she attempts to commit suicide. Her new therapist (Jude Law) prescribes anti-depressants that have adverse side effects resulting in tragedy.
All the buildup to the tragic event that takes place nearly 45 minutes into the film was expertly handled, well written and seriously frightening when you consider how many people mix prescriptions and the random side effects that can result from doing so. Writer Scott Z. Burns clearly did some research into this topic and is shows in the final product. Where he falters is in the last half of the script where the story switches gears and turns into a generic investigative thriller with multiple twists thrown in to keep things interesting. I saw every one of these twists coming and in the end I was wholly disappointed by the film that had just played out before me.
The acting is fine by most of the cast, especially Rooney Mara as the manically depressed Emily in the two acts. I felt sorry for her, wanted her to get her shit together and pull thorough regardless of what ends up happening to her. But in the last half of the film when her character shifts she goes into her A Nightmare on Elm Street mode and sleepwalks through the remaining scenes. Channing Tatum was halfway decent as her husband Martin, but he doesn’t get a whole lot of screentime. Jude Law is the most successful in the core cast as psychiatrist Dr. Banks. I believed he was a shrink for the moment he walked on screen and even though he swings over to a devious place as the movie pushes on I bought into it. Why he doesn’t get more high profile movies is beyond me.
Steven Soderbergh is one of those directors who I feel makes films I’m either going to love or I’m going to hate. For every Contagion there’s a Haywire. For every Ocean’s 11 there’s an Ocean’s 12. For every Traffic there’s a The Informant!. Side Effects is one of those rare movies on his resume that I both like and dislike in equal measure. Like I said, the first half is phenomenally gripping and then it goes in another direction that didn’t work for me. I do find him to be a talented and highly intelligent director who is willing to venture into any genre to tell a story (he needs to make a full-on horror film before he “retires”). It’s just that sometimes he misses the mark completely and falls flat on his face. I will give him props for trying to make this a great picture from start to finish, but the script worked against him and that never happened. He needs to stop reusing the same troupe of actors for every film. One of the reasons I think Zeta-Jones gets away with subpar performances is because she knows Soderbergh will just cast her again regardless.
I’m trying my best to not go into spoiler territory so you will have to excuse the brevity of this review. I don’t want to ruin it for those with an interest in seeing this flick. Just know that if you have grown tiresome of the Shyamalan-style plot twists and audience manipulation that comes with it you might end up just as let down as I was with Side Effects. I was just looking forward to a nice, straightforward thriller and I got something else. Maybe my expectations betrayed me? I don’t think so. I just wanted a good movie and I didn’t get one – I received half of one.
2 out of 5