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Side Effects: nothing is as it seems
It's been a while since I wrote anything about movies or television or theater or books. Not for lack of material, definitely, but for lack of material time. I can't remember anymore how many movies I've seen, and books I've read, this last month or so. Too many are plain forgettable, others I remember because they are so terrible (eg., No One Lives and Greystone Park), and then there are the few that are so good that the wait for the DVD releases was all worth it. It's just these few that are worth writing about. Like Side Effects, a film by Steven Soderbergh.
The film opens with what appears to be a crime scene with blood on the floor of a house. Then, flashback to three months earlier. Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) is released from prison after serving his sentence for insider trading. His wife, Emily (Rooney Mara), picks him up. They try to resume their lives but Emily is suffering from depression. She rams her car into a concrete wall in a parking lot in an apparent suicide, she survives without serious injury and, at the hospital, meets Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), the psychiatrist assigned to her case.
Dr. Banks puts Emily on anti-depressants, one after the other, but nothing worked for her. Dr. Banks decides to dig deeper into Emily's medical background and confers with her former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta Jones) who recommends an experimental drug called Ablixa for Emily. Dr. Banks is unenthusiastic but when Emily attempts suicide again, he finally prescribes Ablixa. The new medication appears to work for Emily except for episodes of sleepwalking, a known side effect of the drug.
One night, as Martin arrives home while Emily is preparing dinner, she stabs him to death with a kitchen knife while in an apparent state of sleepwalking. During trial, Dr. Banks testifies on her behalf and she ends up raising the insanity plea. Emily is committed to a mental institution until she is declared well enough.
Meanwhile, Dr. Banks is blamed for his decision to put Emily on an experimental drug. In seeking to clear his name and regain his stature in his profession, Dr. Banks discovers a conspiracy and realizes that he had been carefully chosen to be the patsy.
Side Effects is categorized as a psychological thriller. It's modern Hitchcock. I thought of Brian De Palma and his many attempts to replicate Hitchcock but Soderbergh does a better job with Side Effects. And, as what he seems to be so good at, he brings out the best in his actors. The performances were, put simply, quite impeccable.
But beyond the gripping suspense, the plot dares to be unapologetically socially relevant. It touches on the controversial relationship between doctors and drug companies, and how doctors have the power to turn their patients into guinea pigs for drug companies. It explores the status of mood-altering drugs in today's society and how they have become so commonplace. A courageous movie from every perspective. Worth a second, a third, or even a fourth watch.