‘Side Effects’ Movie Review – A Tale of Two Halves
Maybe it’s because the last couple movies I’ve seen have been so, well, straightforward, but Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects is tough to wrap your mind around. It’s also unique in the fact that I can’t remember flipping my opinion on whether or not I liked it so many times. In the end, it’s ultimately enjoyable, even if the first half of the story is superior to the second half.
Throwing us right in the middle of the story, Emily (Rooney Mara), a young woman, is reunited with her husband (Channing Tatum) after his four-year prison stint for inside trading. Before her drastic life change, she was enjoying a loving and financially-successful relationship. At the time of his release, she’d lost everything, casting a shadow (or “poisonous fog”) over her life.
I’ll have to pussyfoot over the rest of the plot because it’s hard to talk about my likes (and especially dislikes) without a spoiler tag.
When her husband returns, her depression seems to relapse and she’s put on an array of medications. The side effects play a dangerous role in her actions and she’s put in the middle of a legally-gray area, unraveling the lives of everyone around her, including her new (Jude Law) and old psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
With these types of movies, sometimes it comes down to whether I would recommend spending the time investing in the movie and story.
Ultimately, yes, I would recommend it.
This is mostly because the film has a brain; it’s smart like so many other movies aren’t. Soderbergh, and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, trickle in clues about where the movie is going without being too overt about it. I appreciated the way they took their time telling the story, too, because I feel that movies too often use cheap voice overs and tacky flashbacks to fill in the past. Instead, Side Effects throws us in the middle of the story and lets us paint the picture.
While the story had a brain, it unfortunately lacked a heart. Maybe this was deliberate – depression is definitely a main theme – but it’s hard to have an emotional connection to any character other than Dr. Banks (Law). Emily has it the worst, and when her character does finally transform, the story relies on the audience siding with her.
Part of my complaints come from the story’s overall direction. Without spoiling it too much, the story gets away from the drugs and drug companies. It was far more interesting when it dealt with the moral and legal dilemmas following these huge companies and the pharmaceutical effects. Granted, the story wouldn’t have been quite as topsy-turvy if it had stuck to this path, but the overall implications would’ve been more profound.
These implications include how we see, diagnose, and treat depression. As a story, the film does a pretty good job establishing it. However, some of the storytelling tricks – especially the washed-out color scheme and clever symbolism – could be viewed as manipulative given the turns late in the movie.
Then, there’s the ending. With a slower first half, the last fifteen minutes have the bulk of the turns. In some ways, the ending won’t be as polarizing, but I’m glad it ended where it did. If it had ended (roughly) three minutes earlier, the entire story (and my enjoyment) would’ve been completely different. Strangely, this ending doesn’t rely on a huge twist either.
In all, Side Effects is worth the ticket price. Steven Soderbergh has shown great range as a director, and psychological thriller is part of that. The performances are all-around good – though it’s interesting how opposite Emily’s character is to Lisbeth Salander – and the eerie tone helps the suspense. However, the film probably missed the opportunity to go from good to great when it chose to focus more on business than biology. One of the tenants of a “good” movie is that it spawns a conversation afterwards, and there is no doubt this will happen.
I’m just curious how different the conversation could’ve been.
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