Side Effects

Feb 14, 2013

Side Effects
Grade: C
Director: Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brokovich, Contagion)
Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum)
Cast: Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Channing Tatum (Magic Mike)
Rating: R
Runtime: 105 min.
by John DeSando

Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum): Be careful.
Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara): Why?
Martin Taylor: There are side effects.
Emily Taylor: There always are. Side effects.

Side Effects has a great idea: explore the effects of the drug culture, legal drugs, that is, for mental challenges like depression.  To this psychological, pharmaceutical thriller, bring Rooney Mara (Emily), lead from Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and this film’s depressed center, and the always engaging Jude Law (Dr. Banks) as her shrink. Looks like a winner to me.

However, what begins as a serious look at the abuses of the psychological drug business turns out to be a common thriller that spends valuable closing minutes explaining what should have been incrementally evident as the plot points merged.  In other words, the story gets convoluted by combining the business of drugs and the manipulation of drug company stocks, weaving a plot that could have been two films, not one.

I am as always intrigued by inside looks at industries that provide public service, such as the pharm biz, and the same ones that profit shamelessly by peddling relief yet to be guaranteed and a warm place for investors who appreciate quick gains from emerging but unproven drugs. 

Enter Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to move along the drug and stock plots, a worthy operative in this increasingly complicated mystery.  Her role as former psychiatrist for Emily and researcher for Emily’s new drug is part of the story’s intrigue and frustration. I experienced both emotions.

Although Side Effects is no Spellbound, a classic Hitchcock mind bender, director Steven Soderbergh has used enough of his superior Contagion paranoia and unique camera work to keep the plot humming. The fear of drug abuse, the power of a physician during the incarceration of his patient, and the usual ambiguities arising in a fraught thriller make this a promising film.  Alas, its plot becomes a maddening mess that requires cheap voice-over exposition rather than old-fashioned linear storytelling.

I need medication for my disappointment.

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at
He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel.
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