Side Effects veers from one place to another making difficult to gauge

Side Effects veers from one place to another making difficult to gauge

Side Effects

2½ stars
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence, and language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

The Steven Soderbergh thriller “Side Effects” veers from one place to another with such ferocity that it’s often difficult to gauge what it’s trying to say. At one moment, it feels like a condemnation of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. At another, it seems like a scathing critique of the psychiatric field. Ultimately, however, Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (“Contagion,” “The Informant!”) are more interested in crafting a thriller than making political statements.

Their story centers on Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), an overworked psychiatrist who is referred to a troubled patient while working in a hospital emergency room. Although not badly injured, the patient, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), was admitted after purposefully driving her car into a brick wall. After concluding that she is unlikely to make another suicide attempt immediately, Dr. Banks allows her to return home with her husband (Channing Tatum), as long as she follows up with him.

While treating Emily privately, Banks prescribes a new psychotropic drug in hopes of stabilizing her mood. At first, it works wonders. Then, Emily stabs her husband to death while apparently sleepwalking. This creates a media fervor that calls both the drug and Dr. Banks’ credentials into question. It also leads viewers into a story of deceit, gamesmanship and interpersonal shenanigans.

Burns’ screenplay is clever and offers terrific moments, but it also leaves important elements off the page. Most notably, viewers would benefit from a deeper exploration of Banks’ private life. We are led to believe that he is a good man trying to do the right thing under difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, he or another character are in crisis almost every time he’s on screen, meaning viewers never see what he’s like under normal circumstances. Also, a few of the movie’s twists – particularly at the end – are so sharp that they feel staged. The result is a project that entertains, but fails to achieve excellence.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes feature and “advertisements” for two fictional drugs shown in the film.

By Forrest Hartman

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