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Side Effects •••1/2

SideEffects2013PosterStarring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns
Crime/Drama/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: February 8, 2013



Watching Side Effects had the unusual side effect of making me sleepy.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Sounds to me like you watched Sighed Effects.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) welcomes her husband (Channing Tatum) home from a 4-year stint in a federal prison. She’s trying to be a good wife, but she suffers from depression. She attempts suicide and finds herself in a hospital where resident psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) prescribes some medication for her and asks her to visit him in his offices. After consulting with her old doctor, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he prescribes a new drug, Ablixa. Things are dicey on this drug – Emily has strange bouts of sleep-walking and one night murders her husband while in a drug-induced haze.

Emily is brought to trial and Banks testifies on her behalf, arguing to the court that she killed her husband while she was under the influence of Ablixa.  Emily is found not guilty by reason of insanity. But meanwhile, Banks career and his personal life are in ruins. He is criticized for not anticipating the side effect, for getting paid to dispense Ablixa to patients, and for developing inappropriately close relationships with Emily and a previous female client. The remainder of the movie is spent watching Banks try to piece his life back together.

Scott, this movie confused me. It starts out like a typical “cause” film, leading us down the path of a woman who has used little-tested psychiatric drugs and something terrible has happened. What I expected was a lesson in how important it is to be cautious with mood-altering drugs. But the story took a hard turn, switching heroes from Emily and her challenges, to Jonathan and his problems now that he’s associated with a bad case.

Later, the story takes yet another turn that leads us down a third path. I’m not sure if I should be impressed with the movie-makers’ cleverness at keeping me off-balance, or annoyed that I didn’t get one movie with a strong message. Instead, I get three movies for the price of one. I cannot decide if this is a watered-down story or a bargain.

There is indeed a twist, Greg, and I’m thankful for it. I would have been disappointed if the movie had only been about the side effects of medication and the legal implications of these unexpected effects. Maybe I enjoyed this movie because I’m a psychologist who appreciates the rare portrayal of a good therapist in the movies. Our hero Jonathan is a competent, compassionate doctor who makes a couple of minor mistakes and pays dearly for them. Side Effects is intriguing, deceptive, and intelligently made.

Rooney Mara deserves credit for masterfully playing us, our hero Jonathan, and the entire legal system to the hilt. In our recent review of The Fifth Estate, I mentioned how much I enjoy seeing Benedict Cumberbatch play dark loose cannon characters. Rooney Mara is the female equivalent of Cumberbatch. Her slightly off-kilter nonverbal mannerisms are alarmingly alluring. She is essentially reprising her role in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo here.

You’re right about the performances. Our three leads handle the twists with ease. Jude Law, in particular plays Banks at first as a competent psychiatrist, then an obsessive bent in proving his innocence, and finally as a man redeemed. It’s a great arc for a hero. The problem I have is that the movie flips our heroes and it’s a little hard to know who we’re rooting for. But that definitely added to the suspense.

I enjoyed Side Effects and recommend it. I give it 3 Reels out of 5 for an off-kilter presentation and 3 Heroes out of 5 for switching our affections and our attention from one hero to another.

Movie: reel-3 Heroes: superman-3

Side Effects is an effective psychological thriller that owes its success to outstanding performances by Law, Mara, and Zeta-Jones and some slick direction from Steven Soderbergh. The movie raises several interesting issues about the dispensation of mood-enhancing drugs and the legal liabilities associated with prescribing medications. Side Effects made me think, and it made me feel, too. That’s high praise for any movie these days. I’m impressed enough to award it 4 Reels out of 5.

The hero story was interesting. Certainly Banks is thrown into an unfamiliar world and has to claw his way out of it. He doesn’t get much help, as the cops, his wife, and his fellow psychologists all turn against him. Nor is there a mentor, a father figure, a sidekick, or a love interest (other than his wife). Does Banks emerge a changed man? As with many movies, we cannot say. I suspect he will now lead a more professionally cautious life and will attend to his family more. Because of all the gaps in the classic hero journey, I can only give Banks 3 Heroes out of 5.

Movie: reel-4 Heroes: superman-3

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