PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

'Side Effects' Is a Churning Cat-and-Mouse Game of Lies, Betrayal and Corruption

Side Effects' mystery unfolds and resolves in satisfying ways, shifting in ways you don’t see coming.


Side Effects

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum
Distributor: Open Road
Rated: R
Release date: 2013-05-21

“Better living through chemistry,” quips psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) as he cracks an energy drink before running off to see another patient. Early on in Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects, Banks is about to meet Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) for the first time, a woman he will proceed to prescribe a series of anti-depressants to.

The film, now available on Blu-ray, functions on two distinct levels. First, it's a scathing indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, its practices, and a culture that cares more about the bottom line and selling you another pill to take than with actually fixing problems. Second, Side Effects is a tight, intricate psychological thriller that has garnered comparisons to the films of Alfred Hitchcock -- unfolding, turning, and evolving throughout.

Hitchcock is the obvious roadmap here. The similarities are apparent from the opening frames, as a gradual pan and zoom that travels across the skyline, pushing in, placing you in an apartment that is empty, but for a fresh bloodstain on the floor.

Structured in three distinct acts, each with its own individual point and focus, the first follows Emily. Her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), gets out of jail for insider trading, and her entire life unravels around her. Barely keeping it together, she goes through first one then another and another brightly colored little pill designed to help her make it through the day. Everyone has tried them, all, everyone has the one that worked for them, and everyone is all up in her business about it. Eventually her shrink, Banks, prescribes Ablixa, a new, untested drug with unknown side effects. Mara is fantastic, seamless as she switches gears from doting wife, to seriously depressed and borderline suicidal, to something more sinister.

This is also where Side Effects is most openly critical of our overly medicated society and the habit of reaching for a quick and easy fix. Omnipresent ads for prescription pills line the background, from slick bus posters and inviting billboards to catchy pop ups when you check your email and soothing, serene television commercials. Each one comes with a laundry list of side effects that are almost as serious as the symptoms you’re treating. But don’t worry, there are still more drugs to combat the negative impacts of the other drugs that you swallow on a daily basis.

As Banks is wined and dined by the pharmaceutical giants, Emily wanders through her life like a zombie, until, in the midst of a sleepwalking episode she doesn’t remember, stabs Martin to death in their Manhattan apartment, an act she can’t remember. Who is to blame? Emily? Martin? The drug companies? If the violence was caused by the drugs, then Banks is off the hook. If it wasn’t, then she’s a murderer.

To the film’s credit, Side Effects never takes the easy road, instead pointing an accusatory finger at all sides, at all the pieces that come together. It takes a big picture approach rather than harping on a single thread. And as an added benefit, despite an obvious point and bias, you never feel like you’re being preached to.

For most movies, this would be enough to chew on. Story wise, thematically, there’s a lot going on, but for Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who previously collaborated on Contagion, they’re just getting started. In the second act it’s Banks’ turn to come unglued, as his personal and professional life explode as a result of Emily’s trial. His past comes back to haunt him, his marriage dissolves and he, too, searches for someone to blame.

Everything is gone, but Banks can’t let go. And again, Side Effects makes a smooth transition, and becomes a churning cat-and-mouse game of lies, betrayal and corruption between Banks, Emily, and Dr. Victoria Seibert (Catherine Zeta-Jone). The mystery unfolds and resolves in satisfying ways, shifting in ways you don’t see coming.

The Blu-ray doesn’t offer much in the way of bonus features. There's a three-minute video that purports to be a behind-the-scenes look at the production. In reality this is a short film about the harrowing life these “actor people” face on set, people like “Oscar Loser” Jude Law. An intense, man-voiced announcer prattles on about the sacrifices of working four-hour days, living in four-star New York hotels, and other horrific hardships faced by the cast. It’s amusing, but three minutes of it is just about long enough. Fun little side note: Catherine Zeta-Jones shot this video.

There are also couple of commercials for two of the fictional drugs from the film, Alixa and Intenin. While they’re excellent facsimiles of those ubiquitous pharmaceutical advertisements you see on primetime television, they’re not particularly interesting. You also have access to an interactive website for Ablixa. Again, it's remarkably similar to the real thing, with commercials, links to studies, and even an interview with Dr. Banks.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.