Posted February 18, 2013 by Daniel Hodgson in
Side Effects keeps you guessing through the second act, but wears out its welcome before the credits roll.
Director Steven Soderbergh returns to the thriller genre in Side Effects, a film about the frightening power doctors can have over their patients—and vice versa.
Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) finally gets to be with her husband Martin (Channing Tatum), who’s spent four years in prison for insider trading. However, she shows no signs of joy. One day after work Emily gets into her car, and drives into a concrete wall. There were no skid marks.
Emily wakes up in the E.R., greeted by Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist. Banks wants Emily to stay in the hospital to treat her mental health, but Emily says she doesn’t want to take time off from work, and wants to be there for Martin. She promises that she’ll come see Banks in his office. Banks puts her on a new drug, Ablixa, to treat her depression. However, Elizabeth begins sleepwalking after taking the drug, and exhibits strange behavior. She otherwise shows signs of improvement, until one day she stabs Martin to death.
The D.A. (Michael Nathanson) tells Banks that one of two people is responsible. Either Emily is guilty of murder, or Banks is for putting her on a dangerous drug.
Side Effects starts out as a psychological drama, but goes into thriller mode in the second act with Martin’s murder. Soderbergh favors shallow focus—the world around Emily’s is out of focus as she retreats into the gloom of her own interior world. The story keeps you guessing through the second act, as it shifts who it’s about and where it’s going.
Much is made of Side Effect‘s “twist ending,” however, the ending isn’t just foreshadowed—it’s telegraphed, so when the big reveal happens, there’s little shock and no surprise. If you called The Sixth Sense, you’re going to see this one coming a mile away. The turn itself needs to be bigger and more sudden, with less obvious build-up. One of the performers comes off as too benign, no matter what is said of them, and the other’s performance becomes steadily more over-the-top as the film goes on, when a more subtle, naturalistic performance is called for to keep the audience in suspense. Soderbergh, foremost an actor’s director, should have known better.
While Side Effects is interesting at first, it wears out its welcome twenty minutes before the credits roll, getting progressively bogged down in far-fetched thriller plot mechanics as it goes. I appreciated the restraint in the editing this time around for a Soderbergh film, and it’s by no means mediocre, but the story needs work and a key performance misses much, even for a bare minimum recommendation.