There are lots of different types of thrillers out there. Disaster thrillers, action thrillers, sci-fi, horror, apocalypse, criminal. Every single type you can think of, it exists. But there’s something to be said for a movie which is a psychological-pharmaceutical thriller. But, thinking on it, is it not disturbing to think about how one little pill can alter our state of mind, or well being, and even our perception of reality? And how much stock we put in a doctor picking the right one for us, and how often? How many of these do we take without even realizing it?
This is the central issue in the film we’ll be looking at today, Side Effects.
Starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum, the film is about a young woman named Emily who is prescribed anti-depressants by her psychiatrist Dr. Banks and, due to an abnormal side effect of the drug, murders her husband without realizing what she’s doing. From there on out, it seems like an open-and-shut case until slowly, some of the details fall out of place, throwing the entire case in a spiral of lies, and conspiracies. From here on out, it’s going to be spoiler territory so if you want to see the film, I advise either stopping right now, or skipping to the last paragraph. You have been warned.
The performances are phenomenal. Channing Tatum has the shortest of the roles, but manages to be both charming and realistically domineering, throwing a wrench into Emily’s life after returning home from prison. Catherine Zeta-Jones gives one of the best performances of her career as Dr. Seaburt, Emily’s former psychiatrist who is more than she seems. Personally, I wish she were in more films but she’s done her Hollywood dues, so hopefully she can focus on starring in more projects like this, rather than dime-a-dozen rom-coms. Jude Law as Dr. Banks is…well, a bit of a mixed bag. His desperation and drive feel very real, but there’s also a very clear sign of a polish veneer to it – it all seems very practiced and very clean cut. Still, he does very well with the role given to him, so he did hold his own rather than sticky out among this amazing cast.
Rooney Mara completely steals the show with her ethereal presence and ability to play both the depressed and manipulative Emily, which not a simple role. She is able to keep an air of mystery and subtle anger even when has been revealed at the end, and makes the character a truly scary force to behold. Honestly, if she doesn’t win an Oscar for this film, I will genuinely be disappointed – this, along with her performance in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, secures her reputation as a brilliant actress.
The cinematography, and the overall craft of the film is simply breathtaking. The use of darks and lights to present realism and mood, as well as drumming up suspense, is really impressive. The shots and sets look amazing – the film itself moves like a piece of art. Even when the plot stagnated a little towards the middle, the movement of the shots, and the use of color kept me from completely tuning out. This is certainly one of the best looking films I have seen all year.
One of the biggest, and probably most off-putting aspects of the film is the sexism and misandry within the plot. And if you clicked out of this review the moment you read that, then shame on you for not letting my explain why. My friend, with whom I saw the movie, explains it rather well here but I’ll give my own take on it. The whole surprise twist is that Rooney Mara’s character killed her husband because she was upset that when he went away to prison, their fairy tale life was over and she was incredibly angry about it. She then seduces her old psychiatrist and together they plan to pull off the entire charade to take advantage of the stock market, because obviously lesbians are both necessary and evil. It also implies the Dr. Seaburt falsified a scientific research paper in order to convince Jude Law’s character, and I guess the world, that sleep walking was a side effect of the medication, which is not only super unethical but would have ruined her career. Even Banks’ wife up and leaves him, furthering the trope of unreliable women within the film and making every female in the film “bad.” The male protagonist is able to thwart both women, with one in jail and the other permanently institutionalized, and gets his life exactly on track. Yes, we want a happy ending, but you can’t seriously expect us to think he was going to get everything back to normal. I really want to say the reason they chose this twist was to be as shocking as possible but it comes off as incredibly sexist and backwards thinking. Hell, even Banks isn’t clean in this, taking a portion of the money, acting manipulative and abusive to Emily herself, and yet he’s never punished for it. He was still charged with raping another female patient back in England but we’re supposed to assume that just fell away. Once I started realizing it, I couldn’t be as enthusiastic about this movie in the same way.
In the end, Side Effects is a good movie from a technical, and even a story telling perspective but left a bad taste in my mouth towards the end. While I would recommend seeing it for its artistry and the amazing performances, understand that in terms of a story, it’s lacking and comes off as angry and bitter. Just keep them in mind if you choose to go see it.
- Wonderful cinematography.
- Great performances by the cast.
- Interesting, and complex story.
- Strange pacing.
- Plot twist is less than satisfactory.