A shout out here goes to the people who put together the trailer for “Side Effects,” because in this case the whole movie was not given away in five minutes or less.
The previews indicated “Side Effects,” which may be Steven Soderbergh’s last big-screen effort as a director, is an indictment against the pharmaceutical industry, a “Jaws” of the medication world wherein the unsuspecting public is inundated by promises of miracle results from pills only to learn those pain- and symptom-easing products may also trigger some nasty problems.
Be advised “Side Effects” does not take that route. Instead it is a mind-bending little exercise of twists and turns, executed so well it is unlikely anyone will predict what is coming.
The story centers around Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara, who minus the piercings and tattoos of her Lisbeth Salander character in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” looks gentle and fragile), a young woman whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is about to be released from prison after serving five years for insider trading. The emotional and financial stresses have plummeted Emily into depression.
Shortly after Martin’s release, Emily attempts suicide. Although not seriously hurt, she is now under the scrutiny of the hospital’s on-call psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who talks Emily into having some therapy sessions with him. Emily already has been under treatment with Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and seems eager to conquer this debilitating depression.
As part of the treatment, and upon consultation with Dr. Siebert, Dr. Banks prescribes a new anti-depressant called Ablixa, which appears to be working for Emily — until a tragedy ensues possibly as the result of a side effect of the medication.
Soon Emily is in a mental institution and Dr. Banks’ professional and private life are reeling, including the possible crumbling of his marriage to Dierdre (Vinessa Shaw). Dr. Banks, in his effort to help Emily, begins to suspect something else is going on, and in his obsession to unravel the mystery he continues to immerse himself deeper into a morass that may destroy his life.
“Side Effects” was written by Scott Z. Burns, whose “Contagion” in 2011 was a terrifying look at a virus gone wild. In this movie, he collaborates with Soderbergh in taking the audience in one direction, then veering everyone’s expectations off course.
Mara is so effective as the vulnerable Emily that later in the movie it is hard to believe this is the same character. Law weaves a performance wherein a man in control of his life and work faces the terrifying prospect of losing it all, at first baffled as to how it all fell out of control, then later is forced to put it all on the line or face destruction.
Soderbergh has put together an impressive list of directorial credits, including “Sex, Lies and Videotape,” “Out of Sight,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Full Frontal,” “Oceans 11” and “Oceans 12.” This is his third collaboration with Burns, as they previously worked together on “Contagion” and “The Informant!”