‘Side Effects’ — only disappointment, too short

Published 9:22 am Friday, March 1, 2013

by Chuck Lilley

Rating: 4 out of 5 thumbs up

This seems to be Hollywood’s year for movies about mental illness.

The previously reviewed “Silver Linings Playbook” tackles a bi-polar condition that is gift-wrapped in a comedic bow. Within “Side Effects,” the dark side of mental depression is exposed amidst a well-acted, thrilling storyline with enough twists and turns to keep audiences guessing throughout.

Director Stephen Soderbergh’s (“Contagion,” “Ocean’s Eleven and Twelve,” “Haywire,” “Traffic”) camera lens opens to a trail of blood-stained interior objects within a Manhattan apartment. A sinister event is afoot, but full disclosure does not occur until the film’s concluding scenes.

An outstanding cast is headed by the budding actress, Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”), who as Emily suffers from episodes of mental depression. Despite her medical history, she has held together and has waited four years until the prison release of her husband, (Channing Tatum), who had been incarcerated for insider trading.

Emily’s condition quickly worsens after her husband’s release and she seeks psychiatric treatment.

Actor Jude Law is convincing as the flawed British physician, Dr. Jonathan Banks, who prescribes Emily with a new anti-depressant, Ablixa. Banks is also on a $50,000 retainer, which is being paid by the drug’s manufacturer to study its side effects.

The in-control psychiatrist soon loses control of the patient/physician relationship to out-of-control events. Catherine Zeta-Jones also appears as a psychiatrist who has previously treated Emily for her mental depression.

The film’s dark side is evident both through the motives of primary characters and through the director’s exposition of mental illness. Soderbergh’s characters are realistic, each with veneers that crack and reveal serious flaws.

His world of mental depression unfolds through patient blackouts, a murder, courtroom drama, institutionalization and failed treatments. Stress from “side effects” is not confined to the suffering patient, but is pervasive and involves those who become indirectly intertwined.

The intense subject matter could easily dominate “Side Effects,” which the director skillfully avoids by maintaining uncertainty throughout the story-line. A stream of suspenseful events quickly flows towards an intriguing, but believable conclusion.

It is one of the few recent films where my only disappointment was with its relatively short run-time of 105 minutes. Strong performances by experienced actors insure a riveting experience that does not disappoint.

Unfortunately, Soderbergh has announced that “Side Effects” will be his last major film as a director. Let us hope that he bores with early retirement (age 50) and his movie-making batteries will quickly recharge.

Side Effects is playing at most area theaters.

CHUCK LILLEY of Franklin is a retired corporate manager. His email address is chulill@yahoo.com.