In Review: Side Effects

by Adam Vaughan on 26/03/2013


Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects begins as a psycho-thriller that craftily mutates as you watch it, turning out to be something quite different.

Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor. We first see her visiting husband Martin (Channing Tatum) in prison where he is serving a four-year sentence for insider trading. She has lost everything: their resplendent home and the lavish accoutrements of the high life. When Martin is released, Emily becomes inconsolably depressed. She fantasises about jumping in front of a train and crashes her car into a wall.

In hospital, she meets psychologist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) and the kindly English doctor prescribes Emily with anti-depressants, but nothing seems to work. After consulting with her previous therapist, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he decides to put Emily on a course of the latest drug, Ablixa.

Emily is reinvigorated: she is able to sleep, the depression seems to abate and her sex life improves. But, as a side effect, she sleepwalks and it is a tragic event which occurs during one of these episodes that changes the course of the film completely and is where I’ll stop. Needless to say, Side Effects is masterfully directed and Scott Z. Burns’s script effortless in masking less believable elements with a sound basing in reality.

Mara is dazzling to watch. The story asks the actress to play two characters, both of which she pulls off effortlessly. Added to that is Law. It’s his best performance for some time as the doomed hero whose mundane existence at the start of the drama descends into paranoia and chaos. Zeta-Jones also plays her part in an unusually complex role. Her Dr. Siebert harbours a dark secret behind those thick-rimmed glasses.

Side Effects is beautiful to look at. In a similar way as Contagion was a film that looked diseased and infected, so here Soderbergh invests each scene with a pallid, sterile gloss, a comment on our numb, over-medicated culture. His framing of offices, subway stations and swanky apartments is portentous and threatening. It’s a very Hitchcockian trick and if this is to be Soderbergh’s last feature, what a swan song.

Adam has awarded Side Effects four Torches of Truth

four torches

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