GFF Screening: Mon 18th Feb 6:15pm
UK Release Date: 8th March 2013
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones
A last minute change to the Glasgow Film Festival programme saw How to Make Money Selling Drugs – a satirical documentary by Matthew Cooke on the drug culture in America – removed and replaced with Side Effects – a psychological thriller from Oscar winning director, Steven Soderbergh surrounding the heavily medicated brain of America. I think I spy a theme.
With a strong central cast, Side Effects is a film with surprising intimacy and lasting tension which is only let down by a disappointingly mediocre conclusion which loses sight of the true intrigue.
*Warning. Some mild spoilers follow*
As to be expected from a good psychological thriller, the plot is both simple and complex. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) begins to suffer from depression when her criminal husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), returns home after 4 years in prison. After two almost suicides and a few meetings with psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), Emily tries a recently released drug that seems to make everything better until the side effects prove fatal for one of the group. The slow rise up to the incident has numerous character taking some form of medication for a range of problems: depression, anxiety, focus etc. that suggests the whole nation is under the influence creating a fantastic uneasiness for the rest of movie. As tension between characters build, the audience are left to question the best ethical stand point as the plot becomes more sinister and convoluted.
As to be expected, the title Side Effects alludes to more than the drugs warning label but also the social implications and the nature of cause and effect, particularly Emily’s actions – performed by an often haunted looking Mara who effectively portrays the troubled wife. While she is the initial protagonist, as her world and actions begin to collide with Jonathan’s, the focus shifts and the psychiatrist takes centre stage. For the most part Law is enjoyable as this secondary lead, though the inordinate amount of sad/distressed face may leave you giggling at supposedly tense moments.
Most of the acting is superb throughout however some character developments feel more than a little forced. Catherine Zeta-Jones’ psychiatrist, Victoria Siebert, is the worst culprit here as she often acts in ways that appear improbable for that character. As her place in the plot is revealed, she becomes more caricature leading to some cringeworthy scenes in the final moments. In the end, everything feels a bit sloppy, from the writing to the acting, collapsing into something familiar and a tad cliche, moving away from the social consequences of the medicated state and into the usual farce of lies and deception.
Nonetheless, Side Effects is a good film. The first three quarters are engaging and relatively thrilling. It’s just unfortunate that attempts to tantalise are made the focus as there was room for a much better film from Soderbergh and Scott Z Burns.