Film review: Side Effects

Side Effects
2013
Endgame Entertainment

STARRING Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum
WRITTEN BY Scott Z. Burns
PRODUCED BY Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Gregory Jacobs, Scott Z. Burns
DIRECTED BY Steven Soderbergh

SHOT BY Peter Andrews
EDITED BY Mary Ann Bernard
MUSIC BY Thomas Newman
DISTRIBUTED BY Open Road Films

Screened 2013-01-24

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“Psycho Delicate”

So this girl walks into a doctor’s office. The attractive, progressive male shrink listens attentively, smiles, is there to help. I’ve been feeling depressed. Oh really? Oh no. Take two of these and call me in the morning. It’s a fictional SSRI called Albixa and I’ve been asked to promote some trials. Sure, doc. You’re the expert.

Such is the setup. Jude Law plays Dr. Banks, the psychiatrist doing the rounds at the hospital who happens upon the wounded bird who slipped and sped her car directly into the asphalt wall of her parking garage. Emily Taylor, aka Rooney Mara, is a depressive young creature who’s been having difficulty readjusting to the presence of her husband, Channing Tatum, who has just completed his stint inside for insider trading. They live in NYC and she works as a graphic designer, and at first glance they’re a prize pair of attractive yuppies. And then one night he gets home to find his wife slicing tomatoes in the kitchen, in a somnolent daze brought on by the Ablixa. A few minutes later he is prostrate, knifed, bled and dead – the slightly horrific scene is mercifully brief. Wife calmly walks to the bedroom, curls up, resumes her doze. As soon as it can, the sensational rag known as the New York Post displays “PILL KILLER” as its page-full banner headline – and this isn’t the first instance of meds resulting in deads.

Dr. Banks is subjected to press intrusion, peer paranoia, and his own personal demons regarding the efficacy of his profession. He’s a bit of a yuppie himself, set up very well with his wife (Vinessa Shaw) and child in a thoroughly comso Manhattan flat, his pewterized high-rise office lined with those smugly insightful Gladwell hardbacks (though it strikes me as one hell of an incongruity that Banks’s choice quaff is Rolling Rock). It all comes down to what we prefer to see out of our windows. The good doctor’s intentions are questioned by an extremely stern attorney, who’d like to know why he came to the US to practice medicine instead of staying in the UK. Banks’s reply is that in the UK those who see psychiatrists and take meds are considered ‘sick,’ but here they are considered to be ‘getting better.’ It’s one of the film’s more revealing lines of thought, insinuating that Banks is here because business is booming.

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Eventually Ms. Taylor is freed from incarceration by a successful NGRI plea (we all know it from fiction as that famous Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity), described on the stand by Banks as merely “a victim of circumstance and biology” – a curious statement that completely expunges moral responsibility. Case closed. Except for Banks, the one person with stock invested in understanding his patient and her motivations. This second half of the film begins one of those delightful investigations involving a puzzle of clippings and clues tacked to the wall, unshavenness becoming beardness, and the incremental loss of repute, reason, wife and child. But we’re mostly on his side; there’s just something that doesn’t sit about that patient of his, her mysterious past – but mostly it’s the fear-based implication that those little pills make us do things we wouldn’t normally do.

Rooney Mara does outstanding work in portraying a multi-faceted character (to say the least). I haven’t even mentioned (purposefully) the role of her former shrink, Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who just keeps surfacing in Banks’s investigation. Zeta-Jones nails a particular character type, and the subtleties of bitterness: the drawn lips and hair, the dry monotone whose only humor is heard in forced irony. I’m tempted to say it’s particular to certain doctors, but find I have no evidence of this. Jude Law is always interesting to watch but frequently leaves me with a trailing ellipsis. For instance, it feels natural to watch him become unglued and emotional – like Naomi Watts, it seems to be what they do best. But it’s considerably harder to imagine this character’s life undisturbed by the torrid events of this story, in his academic throughline of modesty and care-giving; in this guise, the life of Law looks like a genuine act. In mentioning Channing Tatum, I’ll only say this: stop bitching. He’s excellent. Nobody’s asking him to do Olivier.

Well, Mr. Soderbergh, photographer, editor, director.. it’s been lovely. We have no idea if you’ll return, but we enjoyed the ride. In thirty years you’ve proven to be Hollywood’s own little Godard.

written by David Ashley

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