The Girl With the Depressive-Dispatching Tendencies – a review of SIDE EFFECTS by Kernel Claire Smith
When Emily Taylor’s husband is released from a four year prison stint for insider trading, she wants desperately to assist in his successful reintegration but instead finds herself depressed and helpless, unable to imagine a happy future. When her depression becomes unbearable to the point of violent self-harm, hospital appointed psychiatrist Dr. Jonathon Banks suggests she tries Ablixa – a new anti-depression med. At first the pills appear to be solving all her problems, both inside her head and inside her home. However, the known side effects for Ablixa include nausea, headaches, dry mouth and chronic sleepwalking – the kind of chronic sleepwalking where you get out of bed at 3am to cook dinner, murder someone and then toddle off back to bed.
Although only credited as director, Soderbergh is also the cinematographer, and the film editor for Side Effects. Fun fact; due to a legality with the American Writers Guild, only a few titles can be listed ahead of the writer during a film’s credits. So to avoid repeating his name on screen later in the credits, Soderbergh credits himself as Peter Andrews (his father’s first and middle name) as the cinematographer and as Mary Ann Bernard (his mother’s first and maiden name) as the film editor.
But I digress…
The scripting is strong in this film, Writer Scott Z. Burns (Bourne Ultimatum, Contagion, The Informant!) has done an amazing job at writing the screenplay for Side Effects and setting out the character’s complex histories and tangled plot. The backstory is elegantly crafted from a series of succinct yet natural conversations. For example; Channing Tatum’s (Magic Mike, 21 Jump Street) character Mike Taylor tells wife Emily (Rooney Mara – Social Network, Girl With A Dragon Tattoo) during a prison visit that his parole officer has given him a pamphlet on re-integration and mentioned that the key to success is taking things slowly. With one sentence, Burns has quickly and gracefully established that Mike will be coming home from prison soon. Similarly, with Emily talking to her boss at work about his release soon approaching, and thanking her for being so understanding she mentions “To some people, Insider Trading may as well be murder” and thanks her boss for not believing everything she reads in the papers. Again, an elegant way of revealing an important plot point: the reason for Mike’s incarceration and the fact that it was a high profile case. Burns methodically and gracefully lays out the complex storyline and allows the characters to naturally tie it all back together into a neat little conclusion, without clunky expository dialogue and while never underestimating his audience’s intelligence.
Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, Cold Mountain) plays tense and overworked psychiatrist Dr Jonathon Banks. With a new wife, a nine year old step-son and a mortgage to boot, Dr Banks has a lot at stake in this story. His life begins to unravel as he is held accountable for Emily’s wrong-doings – after all, it was he who prescribed the troublesome Ablixa medication to her. Equal parts charismatic and cunning, Law shines in his portrayal of the British-born, hardworking American doctor.
Pill-pushing-psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert is played brilliantly by Catherine Zeta Jones. The slight nuances in Jones’ portrayal of this character – especially in her initial meeting with Dr Banks – seem peculiar at first, but Soderbergh is the master of re-direction, a veritable cinematic magician. What may seem slightly off-kilter in one scene is gently untangled in the next, or even better, is realized upon further thinking about the story. Jones’ subtleties in this character have been wonderfully teased out by the director and result in a full and complex portrayal of this important role.
Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara are convincing as a married couple trying their best to “make it work”. Mara’s portrayal of a depressive personality really hits the mark. Chilling and convincing, her feelings of desperation and helplessness come across clearly on the silver screen. Perhaps not as challenging a role as Lisbeth Salander would have been in 2011’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Mara still manages to craft a believable and realistic waif, intent on bettering herself through the hopeless situation.
Unfortunately the film loses some of its stead in pacing, forget the anti-depression meds, at times this story could do with a shot of adrenaline! Pace issues are the curse of a well written screenplay; scenes are subtly set by clever dialogue at the outset, so the audience is clear on the actions of the characters, but the action continues after this has been established. By no means was the story boring, however it definitely could do with a bit more pizzazz and action at times. This film is a slow burn, but its worth it – like watching an eight meter fuse-line burn down to start the fireworks show on new year’s eve celebrations.
Side Effects is rated MA15 and is released in cinemas on Thursday 28th Feb. I rate this 7.5/10.