Film review: Side Effects

posted at 9:31 am on February 24, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Can one pill change your life? Steven Soderbergh returns as director to address this question in Side Effects … or perhaps not, as this langorous puzzler unfolds over the course of 106 minutes.  With all sorts of people taking short cuts to happiness and pleasure, including pills and get-rich-quick schemes, can we tell what’s real and what isn’t by mere observation of behavior?  Who exactly is a victim, and what or who are the perpetrators — if any?

Soderbergh is known for his smart and realistic depictions of slice-of-life dramas, and this one might be his most ambitious since Traffic thirteen years ago.  Side Effects has a warmer feel to it than Traffic, at least at first, as Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) welcomes home her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) from prison after serving time for insider trading.  He promises to restore Emily to her life of luxury, but she falls into a depression and a presumed suicide attempt.  Enter Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who eventually prescribes a new anti-depressant after consulting with Emily’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).  The treatment somehow goes horribly awry, and ruins the life of Banks and puts Emily on trial.  But are the medication and the treatment really to blame, or does someone have an agenda?

Side Effects has its problems, but far fewer than its virtues.  It moves a little too slowly in the first half, and then a bit too fast in the second.  The resolution seems rather pat and unrealistic, especially with Banks’ participation in it.   However, it’s difficult to say more without spoiling the film — and I don’t want to do that, because this is a film worth watching, even with those flaws acknowledged.

Soderbergh relies on subtleties to weave a complicated tale that doesn’t presume the audience is filled with idiots.  That alone makes Side Effects worth the price of admission, but the story is also a grabber, because it’s not easy to see where Soderbergh is going.  Is this an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, as Traffic was in part?  Not really, although it does seem to go in that direction for a while.  Wall Street and the wealthy?  Perhaps a touch, but not in the way one thinks.  In the end, it’s about short cuts and the need to fill destructive desires rather than live life in a straightforward manner, and the disaster that causes for everyone around those who succumb.

That all hinges on the performance of Rooney Mara, who delivers as Emily in layers of subtlety.  She gave a disturbingly outré performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but her Emily is a quieter masterpiece.  Law plays Dr. Banks straight as an arrow, while Zeta-Jones’ casting is a bit of a tell in this case.  Even with its flaws, Side Effects will keep you thinking long after the credits roll, which is another virtue too rarely delivered by Hollywood.  Rumor has it that this will be Soderbergh’s last directorial effort as he wants to focus on producing.  If so, it’s a good valediction, but a shame nonetheless.

Side Effects is rated R for realistic violence, language, and nudity.  It’s not for children or for teens, not just because of the content warnings but also because they’re not likely to find this engaging. It’s aimed for thinking adults.


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It’s aimed for thinking adults.

America’s 47% left out in the cold.

Badger40 on February 24, 2013 at 9:34 AM

It’s aimed for thinking adults.

I’m out Jerry.

Caper29 on February 24, 2013 at 9:48 AM

No mention of skin, car chases, or shootouts.

How did this get past the Hollywood censors?

BobMbx on February 24, 2013 at 9:55 AM

I’m still blown away that the lead actress in this film is the same one who played the title role in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”!

She was not only outstanding in that role, the physical transformation and makeup regiment she went through to become the lead character was astounding.

pilamaye on February 24, 2013 at 10:20 AM

It’s not for children or for teens,not just because of the content warnings but also because they’re not likely to find this engaging. It’s aimed for thinking adults.

I find this statement troubling on some level. Are teens unable to think. Should we not allow expect teens to be able to get indepth story lines. if the movie is as good as your review makes it sound, shouldn’t we be pushing teens to see this type of movie? A movie that makes them think instead of the suspend disbelief multimillion blockbuster that have no plot line and requires not thought. Wouldn’t that be like saying Conrad, orwell, hemingway are not for teens because they were written for “thinking adults”

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 10:22 AM

Sounds like a good flick; I’ll have to check it out. I really like Soderbergh’s projects. If anyone wants to check out a pretty cool action movie by him, check out the recently released ‘Haywire’ featuring MMA champ Gina Carano. She does all her own fight sequences. The film is escapism, it’s true, but it’s good escapism. Kind of like a thinking man’s Bourne-type movie. It’s already on Netflix instant streaming.

WhatSlushfund on February 24, 2013 at 10:23 AM

I vote for free obumbles phones this flick must sux

losarkos on February 24, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Are teens unable to think.

Uh YES….please unseen look at your teen years and tell me, how deeply did you think? You might have beleived you were DEEP, but trust me, most likely you weren’t. No insult intended, just trying to ask you to look at the teens around you and then to look at the teen you were.

Should we not allow expect teens to be able to get indepth story lines

I wouldn’t expect it. People experiencing amazing amounts of new body chemicals, estrogen, testosterone, discovering sex, and feeling everything for the very first time are very UNLIKELY to understand or be interested in the nuances of life…there are GRRLLLLZ and our friends, and GRRRLLLLLZ, and I love him/her! It’s not a time for reflection and introspection…

PLUS, they have less experience in life and art, so simple plots work, because they are new…You you will have seen the same scenario dozens and dozens of times so you expect there to be a little more nuance and twist, because otherwise you Know “Who did it in the first five minutes

JFKY on February 24, 2013 at 10:54 AM

I would assume that one’s enjoyment of this film rests on his/her ability to consider that an altered state suspends responsibility for one’s actions.

If so, this is not a film for me. But maybe I am missing something.

jhffmn on February 24, 2013 at 11:07 AM

I would assume that one’s enjoyment of this film rests on his/her ability to consider that an altered state suspends responsibility for one’s actions.

If so, this is not a film for me. But maybe I am missing something.

jhffmn on February 24, 2013 at 11:07 AM

1) Generally it has meant that..why?
2) Plus, are you SURE that’s what the movie is about?

JFKY on February 24, 2013 at 11:24 AM

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 10:22 AM

I can speak for just myself and my peers, but nearly all of us didn’t think at the level this movie proposes.

And most teens today are dumber then we were all those years ago.

22044 on February 24, 2013 at 11:27 AM

And most teens today are dumber then we were all those years ago.

22044 on February 24, 2013 at 11:27 AM

agree on this statement. but then you have to ask yourselve why they are dumber now. could it be because we no longer expect our teenagers to think. I believe humans rise the the occasion. If we tell our children they are too younger for themes and ideas and that they aren’t expected to think like adults. IMO they will remain ignorant children.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 11:45 AM

Rumor has it that this will be Soderbergh’s last directorial effort as he wants to focus on producing. If so, it’s a good valediction, but a shame nonetheless.

I dunno about that. Did you see Haywire? Imagine Soderbergh’s trademark editing and stylish cuts layered thickly over a spy-action thriller. The movie was incomprehensible in nearly every level, and not even the opportnity to stare at Gina Carano for an hour and a half mitigated the film’s awfulness.

mintycrys on February 24, 2013 at 11:49 AM

JFKY on February 24, 2013 at 10:54 AM

over the last 30 years we as a nation of expected less and less from our children and given them more and more. Protected them more and more. Babied might be a better word. I just think treating teens as if they are children only begets more children.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 11:50 AM

I wouldn’t expect it.

JFKY on February 24, 2013 at 10:54 AM

Oh, please. Now you sound like an old fart. Of course kids today are more adaptive and alert than we were, and they bore more easily because they are being raised in the glut of the information age. My 7-year-old astounds me with how quickly she picks up buried story lines, metaphors and spiritual significance that escapes adults. Naturally she doesn’t fathom political implications, but most people never do.

John the Libertarian on February 24, 2013 at 12:06 PM

John the Libertarian on February 24, 2013 at 12:06 PM

I tend to agree. My child has also astounded me at times. which is one reason Ed’s comment gave me a negative impression. I think if we expect teens to be kids they will meet our expectations and same goes if we expect them to act and think like adults.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 12:17 PM

Now you sound like an old fart.

I am one, that’s why….what I have learned in more than 4 decades of life is that we are very stupid…I look at my teens, from my 20′s and see, I was an idiot…and at my 30′s I see in my 20′s I was an idiot, in my 40′s I see my 30′s idiocy…the WISDOM is that I realize that each decade of my life will be revealed as a set of missteps, and I will no longer judge myself to be an IDIOT for them…

It’s the value of being older, closer to death, but a little WISER…your 7 y.o. will grow up into a callow 16 Y.O. who will know everything…just like you did, at that age..and s/he will be dreadfully wrong…

A teen knows everything they know, but that universe of teen knowledge is tiny as compared to vast universe of Adult knowledge….the difference is teens believe what they know is all that is worth knowing and I see that as I get older I realize how little I know, even after the amount of time I’ve put in.

JFKY on February 24, 2013 at 12:18 PM

Hmmmmm…………….,

War On Pharmaceutical Companies,er,..Industry!!
(sarc)

canopfor on February 24, 2013 at 12:19 PM

I think if we expect teens to be kids they will meet our expectations and same goes if we expect them to act and think like adults.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 12:17 PM

But they AREN’T adults…they are pilots of life, just learning to fly…and that’s the difference. YOU have seen more of life’s storms and drama’s (Figuratively and literally) so entertainment for you is different than entertainment for a teen.

Teens are Adults-in-Training…apprentice Adults, after 18 you become a Journeyman Adult…and like HVAC contractors many of us never move past Journeyman….we don’t become Masters….

Seeing that boobs and explosions appeal more to teens than adults, doesn’t mean we treat teens as less than, but merely different…you can have expectations of responsibility and accountability for a teen, treating them AS IF they were an adult…but they aren’t and they don’t view the world like you do. So it’s not an insult or dumbing down to say that certain shows or approaches appeal more to older adults than YOUNGER ones.

JFKY on February 24, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Soderbergh relies on subtleties to weave a complicated tale that doesn’t presume the audience is filled with idiots.

Well if that’s the case then the useless imbeciles in Hollyweird will undoubtedly make sure that this is Soderbergh last movie.

SWalker on February 24, 2013 at 12:29 PM

So, its an argument against better life through chemistry?

Bmore on February 24, 2013 at 12:29 PM

JFKY on February 24, 2013 at 12:23 PM </blockquote

16 year olds were fighting in WW2 they were married had children of there own. they were able to function as adults during that time. Just because we as a society have made the ages 18 and 21 a set point doesn't mean they become something special at that point. I've know 12 year olds more mature than 26 year olds. children learn what they are taught. Once they can know the difference between right and wrong they are ready for adult training. while some infomation is more complex basic adult thinking comes at a very early age in childhood development.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 12:32 PM

I’ll wait for it to hit Netflix

tommyboy on February 24, 2013 at 12:41 PM

So it’s not an insult or dumbing down to say that certain shows or approaches appeal more to older adults than YOUNGER ones.

JFKY on February 24, 2013 at 12:23 PM

agreed. but that’s not what I took from what Ed was saying. He said:

It’s not for children or for teens, not just because of the content warnings but also because they’re not likely to find this engaging. It’s aimed for thinking adults.

I don’t know, just found that comment offkey for some reason.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 12:42 PM

It’s aimed for thinking adults.

America’s 47% left out in the cold.

Badger40 on February 24, 2013 at 9:34 AM

I suspect the number’s a bit higher than that.

Cleombrotus on February 24, 2013 at 12:48 PM

I just think treating teens as if they are children only begets more children.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 11:50 AM

Depends on what you mean by “treating” teens.

Cleombrotus on February 24, 2013 at 12:52 PM

I just think treating teens as if they are children only begets more children.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 11:50 AM

I haven’t met an American adult yet who doesn’t treat their teens as if they are children.

Cleombrotus on February 24, 2013 at 12:57 PM

My take: It is a little slow in the beginning, however, is a movie
worth seeing. Since we normally go to action movies that appeal to
12/13 year olds (after graduating from cartoons Hurrah!) I found
this movie very appealing. My only complaint is that Catherine
Zeta Jone’s nose looks enormous. I can only think that she did
something to tick the camera people off, because she normally looks
gorgeous…and she did, however the angle on the nose was distracting. Rooney Mara and Jude Law were excellent in their
roles.

Definitely not a movie the teens would be interested in or should
see.

Amjean on February 24, 2013 at 1:55 PM

I haven’t met an American adult yet who doesn’t treat their teens as if they are children.

Cleombrotus on February 24, 2013 at 12:57 PM

My teenager is a young adult not a child and I treat him as such.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 2:06 PM

I’ll wait for it to hit Netflix

tommyboy on February 24, 2013 at 12:41 PM

…me too…but I appreciate Ed’s reviews…so I can ask my bride to look for it or not!
…the only time I’ll actually go to the theatre…is if it is a movie Hollywood wants to seem to ignore

KOOLAID2 on February 24, 2013 at 2:15 PM

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 2:06 PM

What has been your attitude, in the raising of your teen, towards their connection with the larger culture and its influences?

Cleombrotus on February 24, 2013 at 2:23 PM

What has been your attitude, in the raising of your teen, towards their his connection with the larger culture and its influences?

Cleombrotus on February 24, 2013 at 2:25 PM

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 2:06 PM

And is he an adult due to your influences or is he self-directed?

Cleombrotus on February 24, 2013 at 2:27 PM

I enjoyed this movie. I didn’t know what was going on until the filmmaker allowed me to know. I like that in a film and it’s all too rare.

SukieTawdry on February 24, 2013 at 2:40 PM

It’s aimed for thinking adults.

Which means no Democrat, Liberal, Leftist, Progressive, Libtard, Socialist, Bolshevik, Communist, OWS’er, Environmentalist, Gummint Bureaucrat, Mainstream Media “journalist”, Crony Capitalist, NEA teacher, gun control activist, College professor, illegal immigrant or union activist will be able to understand this movie at all.

CatchAll on February 24, 2013 at 3:07 PM

Damn! I forgot to include Moslems!

My bad

CatchAll on February 24, 2013 at 3:08 PM

And is he an adult due to your influences or is he self-directed?

Cleombrotus on February 24, 2013 at 2:27 PM

both I would hope.

I tried to be the proper role model for him and I think proper role models trump culture influences in the long run. Never tried to hide him from the culture but I did try to give him both sides of the coin when seeing that culture influence and allowed him to make his own decisions after having all the facts.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 3:54 PM

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 3:54 PM

You know, I should have said “Most American adults raise their teens as if they were children”. Teens like yours are out there, I’ve met them; they stick out in the crowd. There’s a solidity to them and a seriousness that marks them as coming from good breeding. Sadly, it seems they are the exception rather than the rule.

The other factor is that I spend most of my time on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where most of my work is, and Portland, Maine.

Nuff said.

Cleombrotus on February 24, 2013 at 4:39 PM

It’s not for children or for teens, not just because of the content warnings but also because they’re not likely to find this engaging. It’s aimed for thinking adults.

I don’t know, just found that comment offkey for some reason.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 12:42 PM

Because there are dwindling numbers of thinking adults?

It’s only offkey because we know it to be true – that society in general has been dumbing down for a number of decades to the point where they have atrophied their brains and attention spans.

kim roy on February 24, 2013 at 4:50 PM

My teenager is a young adult not a child and I treat him as such.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 2:06 PM

You’re probably doing a great job. You’re definitely going against the grain.

22044 on February 24, 2013 at 4:54 PM

First World hot chick problems…

yubley on February 24, 2013 at 5:02 PM

Sadly, it seems they are the exception rather than the rule.

The other factor is that I spend most of my time on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where most of my work is, and Portland, Maine.

Nuff said.

Cleombrotus on February 24, 2013 at 4:39 PM

yeah I have seen geography effects things also. Country life vs city life has its own trials & tribulations for young adults. But there are some very good teenagers out there. I think the media and those that want to keep kids children forever just play up the immature to further their agenda.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 5:54 PM

I think if we expect teens to be kids they will meet our expectations and same goes if we expect them to act and think like adults.

unseen on February 24, 2013 at 12:17 PM

This is a fine line that needs to be walked with care.
I agree that teens should not be necessarily treated as ‘children’.
But then again, they still are bcs they are dependent children unto their parents.
As a HS teacher & having helped raise 3 teenage girls & one who is a 9th grader now, you cannot treat them like real adults.
This gives them an erroneous sense of power & entitlement they should not expect to have.
Parent child relationships are very ambivalent. That’s just the way it needs to be.
Every kid is different. I would probably have let my older 2 & youngest daughters watch it was 16 yo’s, but not the middle one bcs she is extremely immature.
Still is & she’s 19. She cannot handle life. But the others are pretty mature. But then when we watch movies like this together, there was always a family lengthy discussion about what everything meant.

Badger40 on February 24, 2013 at 5:55 PM

BTW, I do actually treat my students & kids as functioning adults for the most part.
With the realization that I control much of their life bcs they haven’t attained full fledged adulthood yet.
They get what they earn.

Badger40 on February 24, 2013 at 5:56 PM

In the end, it’s about short cuts and the need to fill destructive desires rather than live life in a straightforward manner, and the disaster that causes for everyone around those who succumb.

What the…you can’t mean psychiatric patients should not take their prescribed medications?! Great more Adam Lanza’s!

I hope this quote was referring to insider trading and not adding to the typical stigma against the mentally ill.

HellCat on February 24, 2013 at 6:44 PM

It’s not for children or for teens, not just because of the content warnings but also because they’re not likely to find this engaging.

I can’t emphasize enough how inexplicable this statement is. This movie is exactly the type of movie I’ve enjoyed since I was at least 15 or 16. To say this movie is so overly complicated as to be inaccessible to teens is rather presumptuous and absurd. It’s a complex psychological drama, well made at that…nothing more nothing less.

Braveheart on February 24, 2013 at 10:56 PM

Must be out of the loop. Why the movie threads, like this one, the Academy awards & Argo on a political site? I suppose I have such disdain for Hollywood, which helped the commander in chief get elected, twice. Didn’t Ben Affleck raise monies for Fauxahontas & Barack Hussein Obama II?

Belle on February 25, 2013 at 12:47 AM

Saw this movie with my 16 year old daughter because she wanted to see it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. My daughter always critique movies from the plot, character development, leading actors…etc. I disagree, some teens are capable of critical thinking. This is a movie worth seeing according to my 16 year old…..and, I agree.

Cpoy2 on February 25, 2013 at 9:50 AM

So I watched this last night after taking advantage of my probable last opportunity to rent it from Redbox.

And I pretty much agree with Ed’s review! Recommended for thinking adults or viewers who enjoy suspense and plot twists.

22044 on February 2, 2014 at 5:30 PM