Movie review: Prescribed plot vexes 'Side Effects'
Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum in "Side Effects."Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Side Effects."
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Plain old sleepwalking is so 1960s.
Today, select users of prescription meds have been known to engage in sleep driving, sleep eating and even more private acts that would seem to demand consciousness.
Given all that, it seems possible that a severely depressed patient could try a new pill and end up in the middle of a murder case, as in "Side Effects." Even the drug's name of Ablixa sounds like something you'd see in a magazine with two pages of tiny type listing side effects and contraindications.
3 stars = Good
Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones.
R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language.
"Side Effects" stars Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara as Martin and Emily Taylor, a formerly golden couple whose life was tarnished when he was arrested and imprisoned for four years for insider trading. They once had a sailboat, money to go skiing or to Maui and a mansion; now they're squeezed into a small New York apartment.
"I can get us back to where we were. Em, I promise I can make that happen," Martin tells his wife, who literally hits the wall not long after his release. She drives her car into a parking-lot wall and lives to tell Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) about it.
He's the psychiatrist on duty when she's brought to the ER, and she convinces him the accident was just a mistake. "I lost it for a minute," she says, promising to resume therapy and to take the antidepressant he prescribes. It will stop her brain from telling her she's sad, and she should feel better in a few weeks.
But she doesn't and ends up on a new drug called Ablixa, which pitches this message to consumers: "Ask your doctor about Ablixa today and take back your tomorrow."
Todays and tomorrows are sharply changed for Martin, Emily, Dr. Banks and another therapist, Dr. Victoria Siebert, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones in oversize, smart-girl glasses.
That's about all you want to know going into this psychological thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Scott Z. Burns. The pair collaborated on the gripping "Contagion" and "The Informant!," a comedy based on a remarkable real story, both starring Matt Damon.
The seed for "Side Effects" was planted more than a decade ago when Mr. Burns did some research at Bellevue Hospital in New York and talked with psychiatrists and observed them with mentally ill patients, some with a criminal past.
What "Side Effects" effectively conveys is how commonplace prescription meds are in today's society, as strangers or colleagues toss around names of pills they were prescribed. Banks offers his wife (Vinessa Shaw) a beta blocker, suggesting everyone takes them, from lawyers and musicians to people facing big job interviews.
But drugs are the bait in a bear trap in this story. They can ensnare patients, those in their universe and doctors who may be paid handsomely for participating in the trial of a new drug.
"Side Effects" gives Ms. Mara the chance to look entirely different from "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and project a mix of wounded-bird vulnerability and wiliness. Mr. Law has been on a roll of late, playing Anna Karenina's cuckolded husband, speaking for the animated bogeyman in "Rise of the Guardians" and here portraying a doctor who encounters side effects that could prove lethal to his personal and professional life.
"Side Effects" aspires to greatness but doesn't make it.
It had me in its grip but then, due to too many improbable maneuvers and twists, lost me, letting my belief slip away like the villain dangling over the cliff who just ... can't ... hold ... on ... anymore.
First Published February 8, 2013 12:00 am