'Side Effects' Movie Review: 'Side Effects' Sidesteps The Plot
When a movie like the newly released Side Effects boasts big names like Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago, Ocean's Twelve), Jude Law (Anna Karenina, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network), you can expect one of two things: characters who are complex enough to have attractive, pricey actors or a big budget flop wtih little substance. Add a hard-hitting director like Steven Soderbergh (Contagion, Ocean's Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen), however, and you might just have something special.
The story involves psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Law) taking on Emily Taylor (Mara) as a patient after she has attempted suicide by plowing her car into a brick wall. Banks tries to treat Emily with a new antidepressant medicine, and soon weird things start to happen.
Dr. Banks colleague/antagonist, Dr. Siebert, played by the always-stunning Zeta-Jones, never really gets into the action, but turns out to be one of the most important players. She is a smart-girl cliché in her dark rimmed glasses, and she fails to engage with her cool and distanced acting. Tatum plays Emily's husband, Martin — a character who is soon forgotten, leaving behind him a questionable storyline (an ex-convict who got nabbed for a white-collar crime and gets himself killed) and no emotional trace whatsoever. His character is so unimportant that we hardly even notice his wholesome, all-American, I-used-to-be-a-model good looks that have attended him through his other roles.
Essentially, Law and Mara provide the substance for Side Effects. The story circles around the relationship between these two, but, unfortunately, they are just not enough to hold up a feature film with a plot as complex as this one. They could have used some help, but their supporting cast members were more like extras, both in their acting styles and their significance to the story itself. What results is an ending that is most unsatisfying, as it turns out that the other characters have actually been playing a big part behind our backs all along while we were none the wiser, and not in one of those The Usual Suspects-esque endings where you start smiling and wish you could buy the screenwriter a drink for the clever plotting and well hidden leads planted throughout the story. Here there are too many strings to be tied together at the end, and there is absolutely no logic to the arc and behavior of main character Emily. She simply has no motivation for her actions, and by the time we get to know the "truth" about the whole set-up, it is surprising, sure. But not in a good way.
This story has a strong trace of Deus Ex Machina, when everything is explained at the end in the form of a voice-over flashback, because there is no way in hell we could have guessed this turn of events. This is really the worst kind of storytelling, and the viewer can't help but feel a little cheated after being promised the solidly reliable Law (who may always seem to play himself, but rarely gets it wrong), who we thought would solve the puzzle like Dr. Watson and get his hard-earned vengeance. But the solution to this story is too far-fetched, so a sneakingly spooky criminal tale becomes a very illogical conspiracy plot.
This is hardly a thriller. It is more of a traditional crime clue-er with a psychiatrist as the reluctant and victimized detective, running around trying to save his own ass and find out the truth about the menace that has struck him in an almost Erin Brockovich-ian pursuit of justice against a big pharmaceutical corp, which quickly devolves into a malicious mind game.
Sometimes the turns are so fast you wonder if you fell asleep and missed something in between the scenes. How did he find that out? Who called for the police? Where did she come from? It is confusing to say the least, and it seems there should have been 15 minutes of extra footage to show us what exactly happened. Unfortunately, the tempo in this film is also too slow for the added material. We could not bear sitting idle in the chair for that long.
Sadly in Side Effects, the madness is never really scary, the breakdowns not nearly upsetting, and the hero, who is just as much Law as he is Jonathan Banks, never seems convincingly threatened.
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