February 14, 2013

'Side Effects' offers thought-provoking entertainment


---- — At age 50, director Steven Soderbergh says he’s ready to put down the camera and stop making films.

If true, that would be too bad, since he’s still capable of putting out thought-provoking and entertaining work such as “Side Effects.”

“Side Effects” is a taut and well-acted psychological thriller that touches on the essence of psychology itself. While it addresses the use and prevalence of antidepressant medications, however, don’t write the film off as a dry and clinical think piece.

The movie has plenty of suspense and some real emotion, and Soderbergh takes it in some unexpected directions.

Jude Law co-stars as Dr. Jonathan Banks, a personable and successful psychiatrist, living a perfect life and very much in control of every situation.

Rooney Mara is in quite a different place as Emily Taylor, a timid woman suffering a crushing depression.

Emily’s wealthy husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), was convicted of insider trading, forcing her to give up her house and life and take a job as an office worker for an admittedly understanding boss.

After four years, Martin has been let out of prison, with grand ideas for rebuilding his fortune, but try as she might, Emily can’t summon any excitement or satisfaction. When she crumbles to the point of suicide, she intersects with Dr. Banks, who prescribes antidepressants — including a new one that has an unexpected side effect. Emily is charged with a crime, but it’s Banks whose life begins to crumble.

The film creates some interesting moral and ethical questions: Is Emily responsible for acts done under the influence of prescribed medication? Is the drug company to blame? Is the doctor responsible for unforeseen side effects? And what are the moral implications if he’s being paid by a drug company to study the patients he prescribes their drugs to?

Law does a fine job of fighting back even while his character loses control of his situation. Less satisfying is Catherine Zeta-Jones in a smaller but necessary role as Emily’s first psychiatrist.

Mara’s performance is best of all. The role isn’t the showy tour de force that “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was, but it’s still a difficult and complex part, drawing us into her mental instability.

“Side Effects” boasts some satisfying twists and thrills along the way. It won’t be the film Soderbergh is most remembered for, but it’s a satisfying addition to his resume.

Rental Recommendation: People are depressed for a reason in Soderbergh’s “Contagion.” Grade: B

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Side Effects

Grade: B+

Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones

Rated: R (for sexuality, nudity, violence and language)

Running time: 106 minutes