Before viewing Steven Soderbergh’s (assumed) last directorial effort, you imagine the title of the movie corresponding very easily to the plot.
1. Girl gets hooked on drugs
2. Girl experiences some dangerous side effects
3. Girl goes crazy
That’s all I could really take from the trailer of Side Effects, aside from the obvious allusions to Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” .
There is some moments of Requiem, more technical than anything. A dark, gloomy atmosphere with an emotional disconnect to the lead. It is a simple, slow, but engaging piece of cinema and a great showing for Rooney Mara as the maladjusted Emily, who’s eyes show a great deal of pain, misery and inner reflection.
After four long years, Emily (Mara) is reunited with her husband Martin (played by Channing Tatum), who was busted for insider trading and sent to prison. Things are only good for a short time, as Emily’s listlessness expands into a deeper state of depression. After a suicide attempt, Emily is visited by psychiatrist Dr. Banks (Jude Law), who has no qualms about wanting to help Emily’s depression with deep conversation and heavy prescription medication. He knows what he’s doing. He’s a gifted psychiatrist who really wants to see Emily’s issues resolved, though he’s not painted with your typical “hero brush”.
Nothing seems to work though, and at some provocation (through Emily, her previous psychiatrist (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a pay-day from Big Pharma), Dr. Banks prescribes a newer medication, Ablixa. The proverbial “green fog bank” Emily suggests has been rolling around in her head begins dissipating. Her insomnia is over, her sex drive is in full force, but her sleepwalking is still very troubling for her husband. In a jarring twist (the first of a few), things go awry, but nobody’s quite sure who or what to blame.
The second half of the film then turns into something similar to David Fincher’s “Zodiac”, about a man obsessing over a closed case, causing major rifts with his spouse, patients and co-workers. Writer Scott Z. Burns reveals tidbits at a time for both Dr. Banks and the audience to resolve together. There is no need for the viewer to solve any lingering mysteries, but nothing is spelled out for us (aside from an awful scene full of revelations later in the movie).
Side Effects’ simple story about truth and lies is underscored with lingering, foreboding music and an incredible lack of natural light. There is very little sunshine, and it’s used mostly to wash out the overwhelming charm of Channing Tatum. The rest of the film is dark, dank and cold. There are storm clouds looming everywhere, an obvious over-the-top juxtaposition of the looming downward spirals of our characters. Unfortunately, the skin-tingling amounts to nothing, as the mystery unfolds so naturally and simply that you’re never really left in the dark like the characters.
It’s a well-made film, a very technically sound piece of cinema that uses the director’s signature style and flow to create a realistic backdrop with disposable characters. It’s transparent without being entirely predictable, offering commanding performances by both Mara and Law, and a mysterious tale about the side effects of more than just prescription medication… but side effects of our everyday lies, truths, and revelations… and just how no matter what way you spin it, people are who they are and nothing is unravel-able.
It’s not the edge-of-your-seat thriller that the TV spots present it as, nor is it a crazy dream-like Requiem clone, but a very technically good film, with a simple message that is masterfully executed on every level. It’s the perfect film for Soderbergh to bow out on. Good on him, and good for us.
It’s a solid 7/10, which is great for a movie I doubt I’ll have a pressing interest in watching again.