Something doesn’t feel right, and you wonder what it is as you are drawn to the ambiguous tone during the first half of “Side Effects”. Its story is one of those standard thriller plots frequently going beyond the realm of plausibility if you look at them closer, but it is a well-made thriller supported by nice dialogues and good performances, and that is the main reason why I should be very careful about describing the story and what you will get from it.
After the ominous opening scene reminiscent of that mundane introduction scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”(1960), we are introduced to Emily Taylor(Rooney Mara), a young woman whose life has been completely changed since her husband Martin(Channing Tatum) was arrested and then jailed for insider trading. Under such a circumstance like that, it is no wonder that her face looks moody, anxious, and depressed, and it looks like she really needs help although she has been managing to live and work without her husband for last four years.
And then a good news comes to her. Her husband is finally released from the prison, and, despite his tarnished reputation, he is determined to resume his career with any chance given to him. While watching him starting over his normal life with his wife, I was a bit amused by how he rehabilitates himself more easily than other kinds of criminals. Although he has not been employed yet, he and his wife are soon invited to a luxurious restaurant, and nobody particularly minds about that. It is said in the movie that insider trading is regarded as something as bad as murder nowadays, but I guess you can be easily forgiven and then re-accepted in this business field as long as you did not screw up big time like Bernie Madoff.
Everything seems to be going back to normal for them, but Emily does not look happy, and she keeps showing alarming symptoms which can be interpreted as the classic symptoms of depression. She suddenly gets an emotional outburst. She suddenly drives her car into the wall as if she tried to commit suicide. Martin is naturally concerned about her as her husband, but he does not know what to do.
She eventually has sessions with Dr. Jonathan Banks(Jude Law), a British psychiatrist who moved his practice to US because it was convenient for him to work in US than UK. While he can deal more openly with his patients in US because of the different view on mental illness, he can also prescribe drugs to them more easily because every pharmaceutical company in US is eager to get their latest drugs tested and then sold through him and other psychiatrists. At one point, we see him dining with his fellow psychiatrist and a woman from some big pharmaceutical company, and he is very willing to participate in the upcoming trial of the new drug from that company. It looks like a win-win situation for Dr. Banks and some of his unhappy patients; he will earn extra money for supporting his wife and his stepson, and his patients will get a possibly better help for their problems with no charge on their medical bills.
When Emily, who has experiences no improvement during the serial trials of various antidepressant drugs, shows a more serious suicidal tendency, Dr. Banks eventually decides to try that new drug. It seems to work, and Martin is glad to see his wife becoming livelier than before; they enjoy each other’s company outside during afternoon, and they also have a terrific time at night in their bedroom. In addition, Martin gets a good chance to restart his former career although everything is still not certain for them.
But he is a bit concerned about his wife’s progress. While she shows the signs of improvement, there are also the signs of the possible side effects from the drug. Like any good professionals in his field, Dr. Banks told them in advance about its possible side effects including nausea, decrease of appetite, and dry mouth, and he is not that surprised to hear that Emily sleepwalks during night, but he becomes concerned about his patient’s condition. Something is not right, but he cannot tell what it is.
I hope I have not revealed anything to spoil your entertainment so far. As the plot gets slowly thickened through the director Steven Soderbergh’s cool handling of Scott Z. Burns’ screenplay, the movie introduces more supporting characters into its story. There is Emily’s former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert(Catherine Zeta-Jones), and there are also Martin’s poor mother, the law authorities with whom Dr. Banks work as their adviser, and Dr. Banks’s colleagues and patients who negatively react to him after something terrible finally happens as announced to us at the beginning,
The actors in the film efficiently serve the story with their performances. Rooney Mara is especially good in the role which is far different from her electrifying breakout performance in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”(2011); she captivatingly and convincingly looks unstable and terrified as the main source of the tension below the screen, and we come to worry about what’s inside her mind as much as the people around Emily. Jude Law is also excellent as an ordinary guy who suddenly finds himself trapped in a very difficult situation which may cost his carrier, and Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones are adequate in their respective functional roles.
Soderbergh has recently talked about retirement, and “Side Effects” will be the last theatrical feature film in his illustrious career if he sticks to his words. Regardless of whether he is really going to quit directing, the movie is a slick psychological thriller Hitchcock would admire; many things in the story do not look plausible when you look back at the plot after watching it, but this is a compelling thriller which can ably pull your attention here and there around its plot through its mood and the suspense behind it. It is not great, but it is an engaging experience without side effects.