Sodenbergh thriller Side Effects exactly what doctor ordered

[pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”center”]Blend of diverse cast, original story creates noteworthy film for genre[/pullquote1]

BY GEORGIANNA PISANO-GOETZ’15
Contributing Writer

Emily Taylor is depressed. The audience and everyone in Emily’s life — including her husband’s coworkers — knows this without a doubt. When her husband Martin (Channing Tatum, who is not on screen long enough to be either convincing or distracting) returns from a low-security jail sentence for insider trading, the transition is rough. Their finances, not to mention their sex life, have deteriorated over his four-year sentence. While Emily struggles to make the best of it, she finds herself suicidal. Her anxieties put her in the path of psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Banks is a busy, successful, and confident psychiatrist who doesn’t hesitate to hand out prescription pills to his wife before a particularly important interview.

Doctor Banks tries a variety of different medications with Emily, none of which seem to work. He consults with her therapist from when Martin first went away, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who recommends a new pill on the market — Ablixa. The medication seems to work much better than anything else the audience has seen, despite the drawback that Emily begins to sleepwalk.

While nearly an hour has been spent on this backdrop, the pieces really fall into place once Emily does something horrible while sleepwalking. Whether or not she is responsible for her actions under the sleepwalking, which is arguably a side effect of her medication, is up to the lawyers trying her case. Emily shows remorse for her actions, but no initiative to save herself from prosecution. Nevertheless, she is released on “NGRI”— not guilty by reason of insanity.

The trial brings up many conflicting questions about the prescription drug industry. Doctor Banks feels the brunt of the controversy, as he is held responsible for the effect the drugs had on his patient. The questions raised are thought provoking and could hold interest as the big idea of a different film. However, Side Effects is more a psychological thriller than an opinion piece on the American mental health care system.

The trial lacks punch, since it is merely a phantom climax for the film. The true culmination is when Banks begins to feel uncomfortable for being punished for the actions of Emily under her prescription. The professional setbacks he endures lead him to search for someone or something else to blame. Once his research into the true nature of Emily Taylor starts, he begins to find evidence that makes him question how true his knowledge of Emily is.

Initially having cast Blake Lively in the lead, it is lucky the former Girl with the Dragon Tattoo found her way into the role instead. Rooney Mara’s delicate balance between her collegiate girlfriend persona in The Social Network and the potentially psychopathic Lisbeth Salander created an engaging, mysterious Emily Taylor. Mara’s Emily worked because she was convincing as the devoted wife, the anxiety-ridden young woman, and the murderer, which left the audience to speculate which facet was the sincerest. Mara’s performance made the puzzle captivating.

Law plays Doctor Jonathan Banks with more sincerity and energy than has been present in most of his recent films. His tenacity to solve the case keeps the audience interested, even if his onscreen wife (Vinessa Shaw) is not. Law is light-handed with Banks, so the character’s fall from grace never becomes annoyingly over-emotional. Unfortunately for Law, his character lags with no truly defining characteristics for the first half of the film. The good doctor is merely a plot device for Emily Taylor and for the film as he works to unravel the true crime.

Channing Tatum plays the adoring, albeit flawed, husband quietly along the sidelines as the big players do the heavy lifting. Catherine Zeta-Jones is capable as Doctor Victoria Siebert, but her performance doesn’t compare to the work by the enigmatically multi-faceted Mara.

[three_fourth]The film clocks in at roughly an hour and 45 minutes with the majority of it slowly laying groundwork for the exciting conclusion. The “R” rating is conservative, since the film’s thriller genre comes from a more traditional, sychological aspect than any action or gore. Ultimately, a slow first half builds a web of details that plays nicely into a dramatic, thrilling ending.[/three_fourth]
[one_fourth_last]

Review Rating:
B
Side Effects’ plot is delivered realistically by its eclectic cast.

[/one_fourth_last]

Questions? Email Georgianna at gpisanog@fandm.edu.

[fblike layout=”standard” show_faces=”true” action=”recommend” font=”arial” colorscheme=”light”]

print