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Side Effects DVD Review: One Pill Can Make You Kill

Side Effects may be director Steven Soderbergh’s last film, (though some say that they won’t believe he’ll retire until they actually see the press release, and then maybe not even then). I think that while he might retire from directing feature films, he’ll still be doing something, or it’ll turn out to be a sabbatical instead of a true retirement. He’s got a great body of work behind him, and I can’t see him just stopping. Whether he retires or not, Side Effects is still a strong project for him.

The film opens with us following Emily (Rooney Mara), a young woman struggling with depression who seeks treatment from Dr. Jonathon Banks (Jude Law) after a suicide attempt. Emily’s husband Martin has been in jail for insider trading for the last four years, and in that time she’s had to adjust to a lifestyle much different than the one she’d grown comfortable with. Once she rode around on an expensive sailboat and had lunches in the mansions of her friends, and now she lives in a small apartment and works in an ad agency.

Dr. Banks sees a woman desperately in need of assistance, so he prescribes her several different medications before settling on Ablixa, a drug which Emily herself suggests. Dr. Banks puts her on it and while it seems to help, it causes Emily to lose track of time and to cook meals while she’s sleepwalking. It’s during one of these sleepwalking episodes that she kills Martin, and while the DA wants to convict her, she doesn’t remember doing it. Dr. Banks, with offers from both the prosecution and the defense attorneys, signs up to help Emily beat the conviction. But there’s more going on than Dr. Banks realizes at the beginning, and the fallout from the trial is only the start of his troubles.

Side Effects starts out being Emily’s story, but about halfway through it switches to be much more about Dr. Banks and what happens to him after Emily’s trial, mostly because he’s the character that’s still out and about. There’s definitely a bit of social commentary here, with Soderbergh showing the audience how doctors and big pharma end up working together to make certain drugs popular over others. And it’s a stray comment by a pharmaceutical rep that sets Dr. Banks off on an obsessive quest to find out exactly what happened to Emily and how much of the blame is on him and his decisions on her care.

Side Effects is called a psychological thriller, and it certainly fits the bill. But for my money, I’d have enjoyed a bit more of the thriller. The danger here is all related to relationships employment and money, which, while interesting, gets a bit old. Also, a little physical danger would have spiced up the plot and enforced the seriousness of the situation.

While the thriller part may have fallen slightly flat, it’s a pleasure to watch Rooney Mara play a character so very far removed from Lisbeth Salander and the other kick-ass girl characters she usually plays. Emily is an emotionally vulnerable character who’s pretty much reached the end of her rope. She makes us care for Emily and that makes what happens to her (no, I’m not going to say what) even more compelling. At the end, you feel exactly like Dr. Banks does once he finally figures out what’s’ going on.

Jude Law and Catherine Zeta Jones turn in fine performances. It’s not really new acting territory for them, although it’s fun to watch Law’s Dr. Banks get very very upset when no one will believe his wild theories, even though he’s onto something with some of them.

The ending fits with the movie, though it leaves unspecified some really important points that would’ve been nice to have closure on, or at least a little bit more explanation.

The DVD has some nice special features, including a Behind the Scenes parody that’s more a joke than an actual feature, but it’s interesting and funny to watch, though it says little about the actual making of the movie. There’s also the Ablixa Website Experience, which is just on the Blu-Ray, and includes commercials for Ablixa and Intenin, plus a psychological screening led by Dr. Banks that tells you if you should take Ablixa. It won’t surprise anyone that almost all the answers lead to a recommendation of being on the drug.

It’s a pleasure to watch Rooney Mara as Emily in Side Effects. She’s no Lisbeth Salander, but she has more strength than you think.

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Summary : It’s a pleasure to watch Rooney Mara as Emily in Side Effects. She's no Lisbeth Salander, but she has more strength than you think.

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