Side Effects (2013) Review


Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Certificate: 15     Running Time: 1hr 46 Mins

Cast: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum     

Producer: Scott Z. Burns, Gregory Jacobs, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura


side effects rating

Plot: Emily (Mara) and husband Martin (Tatum) struggle to adjust to married life after his release from prison. When Emily begins suffering from symptoms of depression, she seeks help from psychiatrist Dr Banks (Law). He prescribes an innovative new drug which sparks chaos and a series of unwanted side effects.

Heralded as master director Steven Soderbergh’s swansong, Side Effects is the final feature film of an illustrious career. A parting gift before he dissolves into semi-retirement, the film fraternity will sadly lose a maverick. Soderbergh’s CV is accomplished to put it mildly. Not only is he the youngest winner of the prestigious Palme D’or with his breakthrough thriller ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape’; he was also the first director to be awarded a twin Oscar nomination in the best director category (Traffic and Erin Brockovich) in the same year for more than six decades.

Although Side Effects doesn’t dance with Soderbergh’s finest films, it certainly transpires as an inherently complex, brooding and at times captivating psychological thriller. The intricately woven plot ebbs and flows, at no point does it let the viewer settle, constantly twisting and turning in a state of flux. What begins as an apparent attack on the pharmaceutical industry erodes seamlessly into a Hitchcockian tale of entrapment and betrayal. It is a thrill ride, one in which you must leave your pre-dispositions of mental health issues at home to truly revel in. I failed to do so. I couldn’t help but feel detached from Mara’s cold depiction of its symptoms and found her performance to be naïve at times which undermined the first half of the film.

The unravelling of the plot toys with the audience in a manner which couldn’t have been crafted without the guile and directorial precision of Soderbergh nor the charisma of Jude Law (who produces his best turn since ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’). Dr Banks (Law) is the character I found most interesting. He is taken on an emotional journey and ends up far from the archetypal warm hearted doctor as first thought. As events dictate the vengeful nature of his persona is unleashed to devastating effect culminating in a finale which carries weight but feels too clear cut and polished for a drama of this magnitude.

I had anticipated a darker take on the insidious effects medication can have on the human body and societies over reliance on prescribed medicine to overcome mental ineptitude. Soderbergh, however, focuses on the degradation of the human psyche and how our motivations are often blurred by a deep routed selfishness akin to our greed.

The film deserves credit from steering clear from becoming a social commentary; instead it unravels into a beast which is far more intoxicating, making for entertaining if not profound viewing. The script is expertly written but lacks originality; I can’t help but feel I have seen this all before.