A dizzying, dazzling affair at times, bearing witness to Steven Soderbergh’s craftsmanship, Side Effects might be compelling in the heat of the moment but, like a bad drug, it’s a quick fix that leaves you all the more frustrated afterwards.
Emily (Rooney Mara) should be nothing but happy since her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison after a four-year sentence for insider trading. And she tries to be, duly swallowing every pill her friends, family and doctors recommend, but she can’t help feeling down: Martin’s return has brought back her long-suppressed depression, which soon pushes her to hurt not just herself but those around her. When after a long sleep on a new antidepressant she finds her husband stabbed to death, she can’t seem to remember a thing. Suddenly all eyes are on her psychiatrist (Jude Law), who prescribed the medication and emerges as the outlaw in a mix of pharmaceutical cover-up story, conventional psycho-thriller, unpredictable plot twists and wayward solutions.
Emily’s subtle transformation from the troubled loving wife to diabolical femme fatale is a little rocky, but a confident cast and their director largely keep the film aloft: it’s another genre exercise for Soderbergh that he has managed to pull off with the help of his Hollywood friends to entertaining, if ultimately rather underwhelming, effect.