Susan Granger’s review of “Side Effects” (Open Road Films)
Steven Soderbergh has said he’s retiring from making movies, a rash statement from the prolific, 50 year-old director who helmed “Magic Mike,” “Contagion,” “Che,” “Traffic,” “The Informant” and the “Ocean’s Eleven Trilogy.” But, apparently, he does need some time off because this creepy psycho-thriller isn’t up to his usual standard of excellence.
When Wall Street broker Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) is released from prison after a four-year sentence for insider trading, his loyal wife Emily (Rooney Mara) and devoted mother (Ann Dowd) lovingly greet him with open arms. But it quickly becomes apparent that wan, tearful Emily is suffering from serious signs of depression. She yearns for the pampered, privileged life they once led in Greenwich, Connecticut, where, even then, she sought psychiatric help from Dr. Erica Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). After deliberately driving her BMW into the wall of a Manhattan parking garage, distraught Emily is seen in the hospital by empathetic Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes Ablixa, an anti-depressant medication to allay any future suicide attempts. But Emily’s fragile mental/emotional condition worsens. Then there are side effects, like sleepwalking, and something terrible happens. Is it the drug’s fault?
Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who previously scripted Soderberg’s “Contagion” and “The Informant,” raises serious questions about medical ethics involving pharmaceutical companies and their pernicious payoffs to compliant physicians who strain to satisfy their pill-popping patient population. But then what could have been an effective, cautionary fable or social commentary strains credulity as double crosses, triple crosses and ulterior motives surface from the prescription drug peddlers and the plot abruptly shifts gears, becoming a lurid murder mystery.
For devoted Soderbergh fans, this is not his swan song. His “Behind the Candleabra” – about Liberace – will air on HBO in May.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Side Effects” is a sleek and stylish, yet silly, far-fetched 5. Missing every opportunity to be the kind of suspenseful thriller that was suggested by the Coming Attractions, it dissolves into a cinematic depressant.