Film Review: Use caution with ‘Side Effects’

Film Review: Use caution with ‘Side Effects’
Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum star in "Side Effects," directed by Steven Soderbergh. Photo by Barry Wetcher

Are you a patient of Steven Soderbergh’s? 

If so, I advise you to not take the “Side Effects” medication he has prescribed to you and get a second opinion from a trustworthy doctor.

I may enjoy thrillers as much as the next moviegoer does, but I’ve also come to realize that even a fan of the genre has to understand what makes this type of film work.

As long as the puzzle spreads its clues for us to figure out and the fearful excitement is injected with just the right amount of intensity, then a thriller is fulfilling its purpose. If any number of those qualifications is not met, then you can expect whatever it is you’re watching to be a disgrace to the genre’s name.

“Side Effects” exemplifies the inevitable consequences of said disgrace and should not be taken by anyone.

Successful psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) begins to conduct sessions with a young married woman named Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), who is suffering from an anxiety disorder due to her husband Martin’s (Channing Tatum) jail release. Following Emily’s reunion with Martin, Banks prescribes a new pharmaceutical drug called Ablixa as treatment. Soon afterwards, however, Emily wakes up to find a corpse in her apartment, having seemingly murdered the person.

Banks then comes under fire from investigators, co-workers and his wife, all the while struggling to determine whether Emily intended to murder the person, or if her situation is the result of medical malpractice.

Every thriller needs its clues, and every clue must be mapped out so that the audience and the main character can determine the solution simultaneously. In the case of “Side Effects,” the clues are only present toward the end and hardly, if ever, emerge in the beginning or middle.

There isn’t enough to explain why the complications in Emily’s life resulted in several questionable situations, nor do we comprehend the logic behind several characters’ actions. Banks’ search for the answers surrounding the murdered person in Emily’s apartment is laced with aimless desperation, with no substantial findings until the climax. Even Alfred Hitchcock knew the boundaries of withholding and revealing critical information.

In addition, the level of discomfort in the film comes too abruptly for both the audience and the main character to absorb. When Banks is informed by his co-worker that maybe it’s time he downgrade his practice and move to a different workplace, we’re suddenly yanked away from despising him to sympathizing for him. Such a hasty change in the mood not only gives the audience little time to adjust, but also creates a disquieting twist in the gut that compels moviegoers to say, “That does it! Enough is enough, and I cannot take this anymore!” Talk about a bad case of cinematic overdose.

With the exception of Jude Law, none of the cast members’ performances contain much in the way of substance or movement.

Law does what he can with the material given to him despite Soderbergh’s disjointed direction. While the actor’s efforts deserve to be commended, he alone cannot save this debacle from being locked away in a psychiatric hospital.

If there is any trace of life in Rooney Mara, the lack of expression in her character gives no indication of it; her facial tics are so static you can’t help but wonder if she is being held back by super glue. Channing Tatum doesn’t get much screen time to justify his short-lived existence, and his marriage to Mara’s character contains little to no emotion.

As for Catherine Zeta-Jones, well, let’s just say her involvement exhibits symptoms of a weak performance by a series regular in a soon-to-be-cancelled television show.

Should you decide to ignore my advice and proceed to watch Soderbergh’s penultimate project before he goes on a filmmaking sabbatical, the side effects you will most likely experience are boredom, frustration and disappointment.

If the director of “Side Effects” were a doctor, I would have his license revoked in a heartbeat and his office shut down until further notice.

MPAA rating: R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language

Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes

Playing: General release

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