Drug movie causes hangover

Drug movie causes hangover

Soderbergh film could use an intervention

By Tim Pompey 02/14/2013

Side Effects
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Rated R for sexuality, nudity,
violence and language
1 hr. 46 mins.

Warning: This film is not what you think, and the problem is, if I actually shared the plot with you, it would spoil the surprise. So imagine my quandary, trying to review a film that really depends on you not knowing what the film is about.


The truth is that director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns are clever guys who want to set you up like a mouse sniffing at cheese in a mouse trap. I admit that I took their bait, and so will you, probably.

But out of embarrassment and revenge, I’m not going to help you understand this film any more than I did when I first sat in my theater seat. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t give you some hints, but, as you can gather, I’m going to do my darndest to suck you in and leave you hanging.

This is a movie about drugs, the legal kind that doctors prescribe by the millions for people suffering from anxiety and depression. People like Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a wife who had it all: a rich husband, a good lifestyle, a healthy ego. Then her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), was arrested and imprisoned for insider trading and all her upwardly mobile social props blew away.

Emily went into a deep depression and was treated early on by Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). As the movie opens, Martin has been released from jail and they’re trying to get their old lives back. But despite their best efforts, Emily still seems to be suffering from depression.

After a botched suicide attempt, she agrees to be treated by Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). He eventually prescribes a new drug called Ablixa. Banks observes that Emily is making progress until something terrible happens and both Emily and Banks are left to wrestle with one of the drug’s more disturbing side effects.

That’s it. That’s all you get. Anything else would ruin the story. Suffice it to say that Soderbergh and Burns are spinning a master web of human intrigue in much the same vein as Body Heat and Primal Fear. You’re thinking one thing. They’re taking you somewhere else.

It’s all well-directed and well-written, except for one thing: this film has a double twist. Not that unusual for dramatic mysteries, but in this case, the first twist is so powerful and convincing that adding a second steals some thunder from the original and makes the resolution and ending seem contrived and weak.

It’s too bad because Zeta-Jones and Mara give convincing performances and Law seems genuinely overmatched and about to be swept under a flood of suspicion and malpractice. It all seems to be rolling splendidly downhill. Until . . .

I think how people feel about the ending will determine whether or not they enjoy the film. I know some people want resolution. I prefer dark and murky. I like that Ned Racine woke up in a jail cell and realized that Matty Walker had played him. Great film. Great ending.

This time around, Side Effects is a good film with a questionable ending because Soderbergh and Burns just couldn’t leave well enough alone. They chose to keep pressing on and, as a result, let a lot of air out of the balloon.

It can be grimly satisfying to let the darkness have its moment. Think Hannibal Lecter as he walks away from the phone booth in Silence of the Lambs. Remember that feeling of absolute terror? Yes, I do. It’s the kind of savage satisfaction, that hollow feeling in the pit of the stomach when we realize that smart people get away with murder. Sometimes it really is more fun to watch the bad guys win.

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