By Laurie Coker
I like a good mystery, thriller – one that maintains my interest and keeps me guessing. Side Effects, starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara and Catherine Zeta-Jones, provides just enough excitement to satisfy. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, Side Effects appears to be a movie that aims to make people see and understand the problems associated with prescription drugs used to treat depression and anxiety, but in reality, it is also a movie about deceit and greed at any price.
Law stars as Dr. Jonathan Banks, who begins treating a young, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) for depression. Her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), recently released from prison for insider trading, wants desperately to pick up the pieces of their lives, but Emily is falling apart. Banks prescribes medications, but when those don’t seem to work, at the suggestion of a colleague (Zeta-Jones), he gives her a new medication. Only Emily doesn’t get better. She begins to sleepwalk and one night she (in her sleep) kills Martin. Soon Jonathan’s personal and professional life begins to unravel and yet, things are not what they seem. Jonathan finds himself embroiled in a gripping game of cat and mouse.
Soderbergh uses his cast well, and the clever story by Scott Z. Burns provide for some suspenseful twist and turns. Within the tightly woven tale, lies a lambasting of our addiction to prescription drugs, and for a while, it seems the point, but Burns’ intricate intertwining of Jonathan’s plight to uncover the truth takes precedence over any deriding commentary about the politics behind legal drug distribution. In fact, I shan’t say more, for fear of I revealing too much of the plot.
I adore Jude Law and the more I see him act, the more I appreciate his talents. He had an excellent year last year and his start in 2013 is a good one. Mara, too, can truly, truly act. Her talents are as wide and varied as the characters she plays. Zeta-Jones, while I felt she played the arrogant therapist perfectly, when more intimate scenes occur, she appears awkward and almost uncomfortable. Soderbergh is gifted at establishing a mood of intense foreboding. Even as the film drags in places, he ultimately keeps us engaged and interested in seeing the mystery play out. I do believe, however, that Law and Mara deserve credit for fostering the intensity and driving the film. Of note, is Tatum’s nearly miniscule role and this will disappoint his fans.
The story itself is, at times, predictable, but with Soderbergh (who claims this is his last film) behind the camera, the scandalous tale of deceit and avarice, shadow the huge issue of prescription drug abuse. It’s Burns’ character and mystery driven plot that pull the audience into their lives and holds on.
Side Effects (rated R) does offer a scathing attack on the drug industry and American’s propensity for trying to fix what ails us with drugs. I wish I could say I absolutely loved it, but alas, I feel like and not adoration. For a spring release, it does warrant praise. Typically this time of year most films are toads and Side Effects sits far above that status. It does move slowly at times, but the cast and crew makes it all worth the trip. I am placing a B in my grade book.