Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects is an interesting film, in that it starts off telling one story, only to quickly switch gears and tell another. Unfortunately, the first story is far more interesting, and better constructed than the second, which means that the film never really lives up to its full potential. Even so, Side Effects is perfectly watchable, and manages to ask some intriguing questions along the way.
As the film opens, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is nervously awaiting the release of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) after a four-year prison term for insider trading. Despite their time apart, the two are still in love and Martin is determined to get them back to their comfortable life before his incarceration. However, given the difficulty of his return, unemployment and financial concerns, Emily struggles with depression and anxiety and ends up in the hospital.
While there, Emily is treated by overworked psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). He prescribes a wide variety of medications—Zoloft and Paxil to name a couple—in an effort to help her get back to some sense of normalcy. Emily experiences several frequent side effects (sleepwalking, vomiting, decreased sex drive); the medication isn’t helping her depression and anxiety. Dr. Banks consults with Emily’s former therapist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who suggests he might try her on a new drug, Ablixa. Taking her advice, Banks puts Emily on the new drug. Shortly thereafter, Side Effects takes a sharp turn. Emily’s use of Ablixa ends up having serious consequences for Emily, Martin and Dr. Banks. The film quickly becomes a mystery you’ll want to watch carefully.
In the early part of the film, Soderbergh effectively puts viewers in the anxious mindset of someone who feels somehow disconnected from the world. At the same time, he and writer Scott Z. Burns (who previously collaborated on The Informant! and Contagion) offer a satirical look at how some doctors are willing to serve as mouthpieces for the drug companies in exchange for money. The satire gets shoved to the side once the story shifts to a mystery. At the same time, the once fascinating characters skirt the unbelievable and become unlikeable.
Side Effects is a workmanlike thriller. It’s nowhere near Soderbergh’s best work, but it kept my attention from start to finish. Soderbergh has said he’s retiring/taking a hiatus from projects for the big screen, but I certainly hope Side Effects isn’t his final bow.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Universal’s 1080p transfer is wonderful. The color palette is bright, vibrant and varied. There are sterile grays, and blues in Banks’ office and the hospital is a putrid green. There are no digital anomalies to speak of.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Appropriately, sounds in the hospital and crowds are subtly immersive. Dialogue is crystal clear throughout.
English, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following special features are available:
- Behind the Scenes of Side Effects (HD, 2:56) is a very brief spoof with a tongue-in-cheek voiceover.
- Ablixa Website Experience (HD): View Ablixa’s mock website, view an ad for the drug, and complete a questionnaire with Jude Law’s character.
- Ablixa Commerical (HD, :54)
- Intenin Commercial (HD, :48)
- Digital Copy