Side Effects

12 Mar


Side Effects tells the story of a young woman battling depression. The behaviour of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) becomes increasingly erratic, so much so that she starts seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).

After trying several different depression-battling drugs, Dr. Banks finally prescribes Emily with a new anti-depressant called Ablixa. Although Emily initially seems satisfied with the effects of these pills, those around her notice that her behaviour has changed, but not necessarily for the better.

Side Effects is a fairly difficult film to review without mentioning spoilers (don’t worry – you won’t find any here). Unfortunately, although there are elements to the story that you almost certainly won’t see coming, the key twists and turns in the plot fail to pack the punch they desire.

I felt for the first half of the movie that I was watching an interesting commentary on the pharmaceutical industry and, to a point, society’s approach to helping those with mental illness. For example, Dr. Banks is at one point asked why he moved from England to practice in America. He answers that in England, if people see that you’re in therapy, they assume you’re ill. Whereas, he supposes, when people in America hear that you’re in therapy, they assume you’re getting better. I can’t comment on the validity of the statement but it’s impact resonates anyway, it’s a fantastic, acerbic, cutting line.


Although the film never stops entertaining, by the time we get to the third act it feels like a different movie. There are twists and turns in the film that you don’t need to bother trying to work out. I was a little disappointed by the fact that when the twists come, it never really feels like the film was building up to them. There’s no shock attached to them. I never felt any of the plot developments were hinted at, rather they feel quite forced and ultimately, that is to the detriment of the film.

There’s not a lot of bad stuff here. There’s just nothing that really lifts the film above ‘passable’, certainly not in the plot anyway.

What we do get is a very good performance from Rooney Mara. Her depiction of a young lady suffering from depression is fine, she wears a haunted and tired look on her face throughout. It’s the first of her films I’ve seen and I’ll be perfectly happy to catch more of her stuff.


Jude Law is also good enough as Dr. Banks. He comes across as compassionate where necessary, and follows his characters story arc through with a reasonable performance. The psychiatrist is probably the most interesting part of the story, becoming more integral to the piece as it progresses. If I’m being honest though, Law doesn’t make the role his own. For a leading role, it’s hard to escape the feeling that many other actors could have portrayed it just as well.

To his credit, there are flickers of brilliance in Steven Soderbergh’s direction. Some of the techniques he uses to embellish the sense of depression are impressive. The way the light is cast upon Mara’s face to create a haunted and weary look is excellent. There are also times when we see Rooney Mara as her character seems to see the world. Almost through a haze, as if viewing her through the fog of her own depression. This was probably my favourite part of the film and is an exceptional way of forcing the viewer into the discomfort of a troubled mind. This is actually the first Soderbergh film I’ve seen, and it’s enough to make me want to watch more from his back catalogue.

Side Effects is far from a bad film. It’s just not as clever as it thinks it is and it could have been so much better. The tensions are never quite tense enough, and there was real potential to make a creepy psychological thriller with this movie. Instead, it hints at creepy but never gets there, and it’s thrills are not thrilling enough. There are too many flaws to give this a higher mark than average, yet I’d still recommend it as a film worth seeing.



2 Responses to “Side Effects”

  1. CMrok93 March 13, 2013 at 15:10 #

    Awesome review. This is a sleek and stylish genre entry with a keen sense of irony, impeccably made and paced.

    • Richard Burns March 14, 2013 at 10:08 #

      Cheers! It’s certainly sleek and stylish, I’ll give you that. I couldn’t help but be a little underwhelmed in the end though.

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