Movie Review - Side Effects

Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones
face-off in "Side Effects"
The opening shot is patterned after Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, and like the 1960 horror film, Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects makes a drastic turn about a third or close to half-way through it. Unlike Hitchcock's turn though, I did not like Soderbergh's turn here. It was interesting at first but where it ended was just ridiculous and offensive to some sensibilities.

What's interesting is that Jude Law plays John Banks, a psychiatrist and therapist in Manhattan who is treating a patient named Emily Taylor, played by Rooney Mara. Emily is accused of a terrible crime and the question isn't whether or not she physically did it but whether or not she mentally did it.

Before the crime, John prescribes that Emily take a new drug for her depression called Ablixa. This drug has side effects. Those side effects might have resulted in Emily committing that crime. The brilliance of the screenplay by Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum) is the time it spends debating this issue. There's even a trial where John has to testify and at first he doesn't know if he's going to help Emily or not. John has to say if the crime was Emily's fault or the drugs' fault, which would also be partly his fault.

The resulting fallout that hurts John's career is also compelling. His paranoia and obsession over the case is also out of several Hitchcock films and if the movie had just been about that, I would have appreciated it a lot more. However, the movie then goes to explain the crime. The explanation, the machinations and even the various double-crosses were all a bit ridiculous.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Victoria Siebert, another psychiatrist who is actually Emily's first therapist. I didn't like her role at all. I felt like her role was also somewhat offensive. It's not that she's representative of all female gay people, but she certainly doesn't give lesbians a good name. Yes, people can point to the Oscar-nominated film The Kids Are All Right or Pariah but there are hardly movies with positive portrayals of gay people, particularly lesbians. Despite the titillation, her negative portrayal bothered me.

Channing Tatum is also featured in this film but barely. He's only briefly present. If anything, he's the Janet Leigh of this film, or he could be considered the Drew Barrymore of Scream. Aside from the rip-offs or homages to Hitchcock, Soderbergh also repeats some techniques he utilized in his own film Contagion (2011). The way he depicts dead bodies specifically is repeated. Soderbergh shoves the corpse's head straight into camera close-up. In Contagion, it was done mainly for story purposes or to move the narrative along. Here, it's purely for the shock value.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.


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