‘Side Effects’ thrilling, but sometimes hard to swallow
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:42AM
It’s possible that the cool, cerebral “Side Effects” might be too clever for its own good, but how long has it been since you last saw a movie that really kept you guessing?
Another way to look at it is that you get three or four or five different genres for the price of one movie in this narrative chameleon. Don’t like the way the story’s going? Don’t worry, it will be heading someplace completely different soon.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Magic Mike,” “Contagion,” “Ocean’s Eleven”), who has announced that this will be his final theatrical release before shifting to the greener pastures of TV, “Side Effects” begins as a domestic/medical drama and stays put for good long while. Lulling us into a false sense of security, story-wise.
Surprise is crucial to the enjoyment of “Side Effects”; it’s safe to say, though, that the film begins with faithful wife Emily (Rooney Mara, Oscar nominated for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) preparing to welcome home her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) after he has served five years in prison for insider trading. It’s a dismal homecoming, though, because the stress triggers Emily’s latent depression and she attempts to kill herself by driving her car into a parking-garage wall.
In the emergency room, she makes the acquaintance of sympathetic psychiatrist Dr. Banks (Jude Law), who agrees not to hospitalize her if she will become his patient. Largely based on the recommendation of Emily’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Banks prescribes a new anti-depressant named Ablixa and all goes well — until disturbing side effects begin to emerge. First Emily becomes manic, then she starts sleepwalking and then something extremely shocking occurs that results in her being arrested and the film briefly shifting into “Law and Order” mode.
Though only for a moment. After that, “Side Effects” seems to settle into becoming an issues-oriented drama, as Banks (a good doctor who’s not above taking money from the pharmaceutical industry) learns, too late, about a long history of dangerous side effects associated with Ablixa. Tormented by his conscience, he remains sympathetic to Emily, despite the fact that her arrest has made the news and that’s having a very bad effect on his career, his marriage and his psyche.
And then everything changes.
In all the plot twists and turns outlined above, there’s no clue whatsoever (not until way past the halfway point), that “Side Effects” is really something altogether different — a cold-blooded, calculating (and absurdly complicated) crime thriller.
Some may find that revelation a deliciously wicked treat while others may feel that their chains have been rattled shamelessly up to that point by Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion,” “The Bourne Ultimatum.”) Either way, they’ll probably be fascinated to learn the whole story as the denouement plays itself out, while halfway expecting some other development to come along and transform the movie into an 18th-century costume drama set in Versailles.
Spoiler alert: That doesn’t happen.