Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), despite being reunited with her husband from prison, becomes severely depressed with emotional episodes and suicide attempts. Her psychiatrist, Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), after conferring with her old doctor, Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) prescribes her Ablixa, an experimental new medication on which he's consulting. However, its side effects on Emily prove increasingly serious until - while sleepwalking she kills her husband Martin (Channing Tatum). With Emily's plea bargain she is placed in a mental hospital and Dr. Banks' practice in ruins, the case seems closed. However, Dr. Banks cannot accept he was at fault and investigates to clear his name, which becomes a dark quest that threatens to tear what's left of his life apart as he discovers the diabolical truth of this tragedy.
Review by Louise Keller:
Hopelessness and depression turn into something far more sinister in this edge of seat thriller in which responsibility, liability, manipulation and consequences vie for attention through a labyrinth of revelations. Steven Soderbergh's film takes its roots from society's propensity to pop pills, using this as a springboard to leap into different realms. Skimming through the world of corporate crime, medical ethics and duplicity in both, Scott Z. Burns' screenplay zips along intriguingly, offering shocks, surprises and twists that creep up when you least expect them. At times a trifle too clever for its own good, there are moments that push the bounds of credibility, yet the four leads keep us riveted, their characters becoming entwined inextricably as the exposition changes direction all the while.
The first character we meet is Emily (Rooney Mara, unrecognisable from her role in David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), who is visiting her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) in jail. While he is warned about the difficulties of integrating back into society after doing the time for insider trading, it is Emily who seems to be having the harder time of coping, with serious ongoing issues of depression. Martin's aim is to 'go slow', when he is released and tries to re-establish himself in the business world and in his marriage. When Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) walks into Emily's hospital room and her professional life, we are given a taste of his world in which prescribing ever-competing medication is commonplace. Even his beautiful wife Dierdre (Vinessa Shaw) is on the receiving end of a pep-up pill before a job interview. Being retained as a consultant by one of the drug companies for a fat fee is not unusual. Nor is a professional consultation with Emily's former psychiatrist, Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). After all, past behaviour is the best gauge of behaviour in the future.
It is from this scenario that the story evolves, and in which our perceptions constantly shift. The poisonous fog of depression and notions of self-harm explode into issues relating to crimes of intent, victims of consequences and culpability. Mara excels as the girl whose Cinderella existence turns into a reality of hopelessness and Tatum is fine as the husband. Law perfectly embodies the caring psychiatrist whose life is kidnapped by circumstances, while Zeta-Jones pulls some surprises from her well-heeled persona. There are enough twists and turns to keep the most demanding at attention and the basic elements on which the story is based - the side effects - reek of truth.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's not the screenplay so much as the story, said a famous filmmaker (whose name escapes me) and Steven Soderbegh has a good one here in Scott A. Burns' script of conspiracy, fraud and murder. The story twists and turns, and I won't divulge any of the twists and turns, as it is Soderbergh's storytelling that gives the film its propulsion. At times I found the storytelling a bit garbled, but it soon clears up ... like an illness when properly treated.
And that notion is at the heart of the story, in which depression is both an illness and a smokescreen. But Soderbergh is so adept at drawing us into his cinematic web we are not aware that we've been cocooned for later consumption ...
Rooney Mara (famous for playing Lisbeth in the English language remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, 2012) is remarkably effective as Emily, a vulnerable, depressed young woman whose husband (Channing Tatum) is just coming out jail after a spell for insider trading. Soderbergh establishes the characters and the circumstances with care, ensuring we are hooked. Along comes the credible English-born psychologist, Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who is a decent man under financial pressure - and a seemingly manageable client. A new drug on the market, even recommended by Emily's old psychiatrist, Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones in a complex and demanding role), seems just the ticket.
It has side effects, though, and so the problems begin to escalate. Emily's negative reaction to the medication is blamed for her sudden violence when she murders her husband Martin in what appears to be a period of sleepwalking that the new drug, Ablixa, causes.
As an unpredictable thriller, it's hard to fault (except for the odd muddiness of the story in the middle) although I question Soderbergh's decision to have the camera well below eye level in most scenes and for his choice of lighting. Often the faces are in shadow - not the artistic kind, but the shadow created when the subject is shot with the light source behind them.
Thomas Newman's score works well and the production design is down to earth but convincing.
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SIDE EFFECTS (MA15+)
CAST: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Polly Draper, Vladimi Versailles, Michelle Vergara-Moore
PRODUCER: Scott Z. Burns, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Gregory Jacobs
DIRECTOR: Steven Soderbergh
SCRIPT: Scott Z. Burns
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Steven Soderbergh (as Peter Andrews)
EDITOR: Steven Soderbergh (as Mary Ann Bernard)
MUSIC: Thomas Newman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Howard Cummings
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 28, 2013
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.