Side Effects Review
Movie Night – Side Effects reviewed by Seán Kenehan
Shortly after her husband’s release from prison, Emily (Rooney Mara) struggles to cope with deepening depression. After an intense bout, she is put into the care of a psychiatrist, Jonathan (Jude Law), who proscribes an experimental drug that promises to cure all her woes and those of her stockbroker husband (played by Channing Tattum). However, matters take a dark turn as the young wife’s episodes intensify violently causing the lives of everyone involved to spiral out of control.
This is the latest offering from Steven Soderbergh, and perhaps his last film before he retires to become a painter. Notoriously prolific, Soderbergh’s back catalogue is a mixed bag of genres with films like Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, and Magic Mike. True to form, the director gives the audience something very different with this film.
At the mention of hedge funds and pills, one could be forgiven for thinking that Side Effects is intended to be a cautionary tale about the follies of the financial crisis or the dangers of the pharmaceutical industry. Those themes are certainly touched upon, but they’re not what this movie’s all about.
After some jarring shifting of focus early in the film, it becomes clear that Law’s character, Jonathan, is our protagonist. After allegations of misconduct in his medical practice, Jonathan starts to question the soundness of his own judgement. Here the audience is given a fascinating insight into the treatment of mental illness and the power structures behind it.
Channing Tattum dutifully plays his part as a dodgy financier but he is overshadowed by Jude Law’s unravelling doctor who becomes fixated on the problem posed by Emily. Yet it is Rooney Mara’s Emily who is the most remarkable here, deftly gliding from depressed housewife to petulant child to seductress; she confidently inhabits a complex role that demands a great actress. One by one the seemingly perfect lives of these characters topple over like a houses of cards.
One of the most enjoyable features of this film is that it is difficult to pigeonhole. There is a moral ambiguity at the heart of this story which is one of the reasons why it is so compelling. Soderbergh manages to misdirect the audience by playing with the clichés of the psychological thriller genre. This is one film that just might take you by surprise.
This may be Soderbergh’s last cinematic outing but while it is a strong film it is also an understated one, not exactly swan song material. Here’s hoping the versatile director will grant us one last hit before he goes.
Seán is an Irish journalist who is currently living in Barcelona. More reviews can be found on Seán's blog here.