By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Anything but predictable, Side Effects is a psychological suspense thriller set in the world of pharmacology that radically defies generic expectations.
End result: it outsmarts itself.
Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, a twentysomething New York City wife awaiting the release from prison of her financier husband, played by Channing Tatum, currently serving a four-year sentence for insider trading.
As a way of handling her severe anxiety and depression following a suicide attempt, she agrees to take an experimental drug, an anti-depressant prescribed by her psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks, played by Jude Law.
Her husband does indeed return home, but she begins exhibiting dangerous behavior, including sleepwalking, one of the side effects of the drug she is now taking.
And when the side effects of the drug leads to a tragic crime on her part, Banks, feeling responsible and accused and worried about his reputation, his life about to fall apart, pursues his patient’s previous therapist, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, to find out what other indicators there might have been in Emily’s background that would explain what has occurred.
Director Steven Soderbergh (Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Contagion, Magic Mike, The Informant, Ocean’s Eleven through Thirteen) chooses once again to serve as his own cinematographer, working under the pseudonym of Peter Andrews, and his film is strikingly handsome, which helps it to be so compelling in the early going.
This will be, the prolific Mr. Soderbergh maintains, his last theatrical film as a director, but we’ll see.
Scott Z. Burns’ screenplay (originally titled The Bitter Pill) ends up being a little too tricky for its own good. It starts off as if it will be a cautionary tale, an examination of the pharmaceutical industry’s questionable connection to the medical establishment, our current pill-popping proclivities, and what amounts to psychiatric malpractice.
But after the film’s focus has shifted from Emily to Dr. Banks, a whopper of a third-act switcheroo (not so much a twist as a chasmic yank) turns the film into something very different indeed.
You’ll know as soon as this reveal occurs and the rug gets pulled right out from under you whether you appreciate it as clever narrative misdirection or whether the extreme implausibility makes you feel cheated.
That’s because, even if we concede that we’re in nothing-is-what-it-seems territory, even if we acknowledge just how absorbing the early reels are, there’s no denying that, as Side Effects proceeds, it gets foggier rather than clearer.
And the ultimate revelation is so outlandish that it verges on the ludicrous.
So we’ll prescribe 2 stars out of 4 for this convoluted bait-and-switch thriller that’s an intriguing option but has cinematic side effects.