If he sticks to his filmic retirement, which is very unlikely for someone so prolific, Steven Soderbergh’s career might have ended with the pretty awesome Behind the Candelabra, but unfortunately, since that was TV movie on HBO, his last cinematic release will be a little more forgettable, way less necessary, and way more reactionaryily dated as more time passes. That movie is Side Effects.
Martin Taylor (Channig tatum) is released from prison, and his first port of call is to visit his wife, Emily (Rooney Mara) in some variety of nut house. The cause of Martin’s incarceration never gets much more attention, but Emily’s nut baggery sure does. She’s suffering from some sort of severe depression, and after being released from, hospital, she deliberately drives her car into a concrete wall at high speed. This time when she’s released, her psychologist, Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), tries some anti-depressants on her, including the new to market, not fully tested, Ablixa.
Soon, the titular side effects cause a devastating incident and the movie takes a weird new direction for the second half. It’s no longer about the patient and her treatment, it becomes more macro, looking at the entire American pharmaceutical industry, its practices and its not so great impact on the world. Who’s to blame when these things go wrong, who’s benefiting from the current system, who are the real victims. Or is that what movie’s about? Because later, Side Effects turns into a pretty standard investigative thriller.
On top of that, there’s Katherine Zeta Jones as Law’s colleague and Mara’s ex-therapist, and the ultimate pariah, peddling her pharmaceutical wares for profit, with any wellness for patients a happy coincidence at best. Her character doesn’t add nearly as much as her icey bitch performance, which is up there as one of the movie’s highlights.
Mara is established early on as the probable main character, but as it progresses, Side Effects becomes more and more the story of Jude Law’s psychologist. Which is good, because he delivers the best performance in the movie, by far. Tatum is great, but his minor role means he’s not given very much to do. Mara is perfectly fine, but I feel like I’ve just seen her in too much recently and am a little burned out on what she does. That’s probably unfair, if anything, I’m just burned out on her based solely on the pretty terrible Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.
As far as targets go for a movie like this, pharmaceutical companies are up there with the softest, like tobacco and gambling. Even as detached as I am from America and this world, I know the pharmaceutical industry is an easy one to attack if you want to get your audience on board with your grandstanding and issue bating. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing to base your movie on, I’m just saying that to me, Side Effects seemed to think it had more teeth than it did.