Movie Review: Side Effects


Warning! I’ve done my best to avoid spoilers, but there are a few plot points revealed although most of these are shown in the trailer, and I’ll do my best not to give away how the whole movie ends.

I saw the trailer for this the other week and it went right onto my “wanna see that” list, and despite there being a fair few movies out at the moment that I want to see this won out yesterday.


Thankfully, it lived up to it’s trailer.

The film follows Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist, who begins treating a young lady, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) who was brought in following a car crash which seems deliberate. Diagnosing her with depression Banks begins to see her regularly.

Emily’s personal life has undergone massive upheaval as her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison having served four years for insider trading. He is attempting to rebuild his life and career and Emily begins to struggle.

Banks prescribes some medications which Emily does not feel work for her, but the two of them get on well, and consults her old therapist Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who suggests a new medicine Ablixa, a drug which Emily also suggests having seen it advertised.

The drug appears to work, with Emily becoming more confident and closer with Martin, however, one of the side effects of the drug is sleep walking and this freaks Martin out, but Emily argues that the drug is helping her and she wants to stay on it. Banks agrees to let this happen, after Emily threatens to find a new doctor.

One day Martin returns home from work to find Emily experiencing a sleep walking incident and during this she stabs and kills him, before returning to bed. When she awakes she calls the police and Banks is called to the station, where he defends her.

Working with the defence, Banks succeeds in Emily avoiding prison and being temporarily institutionalized. However, his actions in prescribing the meds even after Martin’s complaint brings him under scrutiny and has negative effects on his career, especially when his conduct is questioned and an old allegation of doctor-patient abuse resurfaces.

Banks becomes obsessed with the case and Emily, and as his world begins to crumble around him he begins to suspect that there is more going on than meets the eye and that he might have been played.

Banks' (Jude Law) world begins to crumble

Banks’ (Jude Law) world begins to crumble


What really happened? Who is responsible for his problems? And does Siebert know more about Emily than she’s letting on?

This is a really well handled thriller, with Steven Soderbergh again showing his skills as a director. It’s a wonderfully paced little thriller and he gets the tone just right, starting with this kind of detached feeling at the start which speaks of both Banks’ slightly aloof manner to his job and also Emily’s mental state, before the movie starts to become increasingly immediate and he starts to build the tension magnificently.

It all gets wound tighter and tighter, as Banks’ world starts to unravel and he becomes obsessed with pursuing his goal in finding the truth, regardless of the effect it has on the rest of his life. Jude Law is superb in the lead role as the suave, professional doctor who becomes increasingly erratic as the film goes on, and then performs a masterstroke in having the character change directions again. Just as he is all fraying edges Law gives us this little glimpse of Banks’ intelligence and grit, and suddenly he starts to regroup and fight back.

Law manages to capture all these different stages perfectly, and also should be applauded for keeping audiences on side, because some of the stuff he does along the way is on extremely shaky moral ground. It feels natural though, for a character who is clearly intelligent and blessed with insight into the workings of the human mind which enables him to be manipulative and sneaky in a compelling manner. Yet at no point does he lose the audience’s sympathy.

The other stand out is Rooney Mara, who had already impressed me in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (review here), the character here is worlds away from Lisbeth Salander, but at the same time, there’s that same kind of fragility to the character. Mara’s beauty and slight frame means that Emily has what one character refers to as a “bird with a broken wing” kind of vibe that makes you want to protect her (and yes, I’m aware of how terribly old fashioned and sexist that sounds, but that’s the way it is, I’m a sucker for a damsel in distress, alright?) and she’s sweet and endearing.

Rooney Mara as Emily- Stand out

Rooney Mara as Emily- Stand out

She does a very good job in representing Emily’s depression, and the way she sleep walks through things and the general aura of hopelessness is heartbreaking. As the plot progresses, she does a very good job in underplaying the role and it works to keep the audience guessing as to what is really going on. She also let’s subtle signs in that maybe Emily is not the little girl lost she makes out she is and there’s a hint of steeliness behind her eyes.

Special mention should also go to Catherine Zeta-Jones. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with CZJ in the fact that she can often be a rather cold on-screen presence and while I’ve enjoyed some of her flicks (Intolerable Cruelty, The Mask of Zorro) she is hard to warm to, however, here that kind of brittle, icy quality works for the character of Siebert, who’s suspicious and unreadable from the off. Although CZJ does do a good job of showing the cracks starting to show in the facade.

Zeta-Jones as Siebert- Brittle and icy quality works for the part

Zeta-Jones as Siebert- Brittle and icy quality works for the part

The movie is carried by it’s tightly paced plot and the story line is gripping with plenty of twists and turns, and underhand behind the scenes dealings. What really helps is that it keeps the nature of the villains and their motives murky until the end, and lays quite a few false trails.

It’s interesting enough for the insight into how big pharmaceuticals work in the US and the way they court doctors, we have drugs reps here in the UK, but with medical care being privatized over there it seems as though the drug companies really go after getting the doctors onside and also the additional pressures put on doctors there.

It’s also rather interesting to see the differences in attitudes towards conditions like depression, with the characters being rather open about medicines they’ve taken in the past when they try to support Emily and the way characters like Banks and his wife also use drugs. It feels weird for a Brit watching this, and you wonder if many of the prescriptions in America are actually necessary or whether doctors just throw pills at the problem because they make money off their patients. I’m not going to go into government healthcare and all that here, but it gives you food for thought and raises some interesting issues.

The attitude is different, although I’m not sure the Yank way is all bad, as Banks states at one point, in the UK if you’re in therapy you’re seen as sick, but in the US it’s seen as that you’re getting better.

On the whole, this is a well made, gripping and engaging thriller (if a tad predictable in places) but it has a good cast, and Soderbergh shoots it magnificently. It’s also nice to see a major Hollywood movie maker  who’s willing to make his protagonist deeply amoral and confuse the ethics of the film, leaving the audiences with an ending which is both satisfying and fitting, but still leaves a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth.

Verdict: An accomplished and well crafted thriller, with strong central performances from Law and Mara, and a twisty, gripping plot. It’s morality will raise questions and make audiences think, which is always a good thing. Dark and interesting. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


3 Comments on “Movie Review: Side Effects”

  1. CMrok93 says:

    It’s a movie that is really smart and it keeps you guessing, and even when it’s over, you still continue to wonder what’s happening. Great review.

  2. […] A gripping thriller taking place against the background of America’s drug culture and boasting great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara, along with a brittle, cold turn from Catherine Zeta Jones. Gripping and interesting, with a few nice twists towards the end. Review. […]

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