Steven Soderbergh (“Contagion”) throws every plot twist imaginable in his latest thriller, “Side Effects.” All the better, considering that the director announced his retirement and said that this would be his final film.
The film starts with a shocking mystery of a trail of bloody footprints in a well-furnished home in Manhattan and then transitions to three months later, to the release of Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum, “Magic Mike”) from prison and his reunion with his wife, Emily (Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”).
Days after her husband’s returns to her life, Emily tries to kill herself for reasons she says she cannot explain and is back to seeing a psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, “Anna Karenina”).
After failed attempts with previous depression prescriptions and consulting with her old psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Seibert (Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Broken City”), Banks prescribes Ablixa, which seems to be working for Emily until one of the side effects, “acute parasomnia” makes her commit a very ghastly sleep crime, creating a nationwide trial.
After a slew of passionate scenes of ripped off blouses, fake psychological tests, bugged microphones and the malpractice of prescription drugs, this film noir still takes unexpected twists.
All the characters want the easy way out of their problems, which ultimately dooms them in the end. Martin wants to easily find a job by networking with an ex-cellmate, Emily wants to simply take a pill to boost her sex drive and Banks wants to move the trial case in order to fix his reputation and have more stable finances.
Halfway through the movie, there is a strong indirect political statement about the malpractice of psychiatrists who misdiagnose their patients by easily giving away prescription drugs. This is merely a motif within this complicated yet pleasurable Hitchcockian film.
The diverse acting styles reach out to all demographics, especially with the comic relief in Law’s character. In one scene, Banks asks one of his patients if she would partake in this one experiment. She is hesitant. He states,“Your drugs are free.” Without a word, she swiftly signs her name on the pad.
His witty British character foils that of Seibert, whose austere character is unexpected from Jones, but convincing.
The audience also gets waves of the now-expected edgy vibe that Mara displayed in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” yet with a more innocent approach.
And Tatum, well, let’s just say it is very similar to most of his roles.
The storyline is just confusing and ambiguous the entire movie until the last 15 minutes. Even with superb observational skills, there is little hope that someone would actually see the plot twists coming. Even figuring out who the main character is can be a struggle. At first the camera focuses on Mara’s character, showing sympathy towards her, but then it focuses on Law’s and then back to Mara’s. There is no wit behind Soderbergh’s surprises. It’s like lifting the rug from under someone’s feet.
“Side Effects” is heavy on meds. Despite the surprises and the film’s anti-malpractice motif, one could argue that that is a good thing.