By Lane Roberts
Emily Taylor’s (Rooney Mara) world quickly unravels when the new drug prescribed to treat her severe anxiety by psychiatrist Dr. Jonathon Banks (Jude Law) causes some unexpected and ultimately dangerous side effects.
The latest film from Steven Soderbergh, Side Effects is part of an exciting new genre of thriller for today’s pill-popping generation.
The film largely plays out as one big drug warning label. In a culture that is consistently plagued by the over-prescription of antidepressants, what happens when these “miracle” drugs do not cure us, instead causing more harm to ourselves and those around us?
Side Effects does not provide viewers with a concrete answer to this nagging question, but nonetheless, it may serve to make some people re-read the warning labels on the back of their many pill bottles much more carefully in the future.
The thrills begin from the very opening sequence, a disturbing scene that cuts to a gory New York apartment in which overturned furniture and bloody footprints provide clear evidence that violence took place inside.
In a flashback to three months earlier, we meet Emily and her husband Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum), who are reunited after Martin’s four-year stint in jail for insider trading. Their reunion is bumpy: Martin is eager to begin new schemes with men who have “money in Dubai and a lot of connections,” and though Emily puts on a brave face for her newly-freed husband, before long she finds herself accelerating her car into the concrete wall of a parking garage, clearly troubled by the implications of his return from prison.
When Emily awakens, she is under the care of Dr. Banks. Banks consults with Emily’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), from whom we learn about Emily’s troublesome and long-standing battle with depression. Thus begins the pharmaceutical stand-off that pervades the rest of the film: many drugs are considered for Emily’s treatment, some real, like Zoloft, Wellbutrin and Effexor, and others created by the filmmakers to serve the plot of the movie, such as Ablixa and Delatrix.
At its core, Side Effects is a chilling murder mystery. However, it puts a new twist on the classic genre by blurring the line between murderer and victim.
Is it possible to be both? And just because someone commits a crime, is he or she necessarily guilty?
In some cases, as Dr. Banks explains, “those are two very different things.”
Side Effects is a compelling pharmaceutical thriller that will undoubtedly solidify Soderbergh’s place among Hitchcock and other cinematic legends as one of the most relevant and interesting filmmakers of his generation.