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Side Effects

Posted by martinteller on July 2, 2013

Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison after serving time for insider trading.  His wife Emily (Rooney Mara) appears happy to have him out, but she struggles with mood swings and depression.  After an attempted suicide, she starts seeing Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).  Dr. Banks, after consulting Emily’s previous psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), puts her on a series of SSRI medications but none of them seem to be effective.  Until he tries the new drug Ablixa.  Suddenly, Emily can sleep again.  But she also sleepwalks, one of the side effects.  In one of these sleepwalking states, she commits a violent act that completely upends her life… and the life of Dr. Banks.

There’s really three movies going on here.  At first it’s a commentary on the hazards of quick-fix pharmaceuticals in the psychiatric industry.  In conjunction with this is the examination of Emily’s depression.  I found this portion of the film reasonably compelling.  I myself take Effexor and have found it rather helpful with only one minor side effect.  But it’s certainly worth exploring the risks of SSRIs and whether or not the harm might not outweigh the benefit, and I find depression an interesting topic as something that has touched my life in more ways than one.

Then the focus shifts to Dr. Banks.  Soderbergh (and writer Scott Z. Burns) take us down the rabbit hole as Banks’s career is hit hard by Emily’s sleepwalking incident, and he faces a moral dilemma in deciding how much he should protect himself.  This was the best part of the film for me, with a really solid performance by Law and some intriguing legal and ethical questions.  How much responsibility — and blame — can or should be placed on the patient, the doctor and the pharmaceutical company?  Banks’s life starts falling apart piece by piece, the casualty of a decision that may or may not have been the right one, but probably should have been approached with more caution.  Is he cracking up… or getting closer to a shocking truth?

Because then we have act three, where the movie becomes a medical/psychological/paranoid thriller.  Here, Soderbergh and Burns start piling on twist after twist, each one more ludicrous than the last.  I can appreciate a desire to flip the script and have fun with it.  I just wish it was actually fun.  It really isn’t.  The surprises elicit no excitement, the suspense isn’t there, the characters get dumber.  All I got was more distancing from that movie I was enjoying so much before everything got all Agatha Christie on us.

Law is terrific, though, and so is Mara (Tatum and Zeta-Jones are, predictably, rather unimpressive).  And the technical aspects involved are admirable, especially in regards to the color palettes and Thomas Newman’s score.  But there’s only 2/3rds of a good movie here.  I suppose the rest of it depends on your affection for twisty storytelling or ability to “turn off your brain”.  Rating: Fair (67)


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