Reel Reviews
Movie: Nothing Is As It Seems In “Side Effects”
February 21, 2013
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The debate on mental health and prescription drug treatments has long been a talking point, especially recently in the news in the United States, that causes a division of opinion. Few films broach the subject and even fewer do it well when they do; from the trailers shown on television it appears that “Side Effects” would be making an attempt to show several facets of the issue, but that could not be further from the truth.

Emily (Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) understands that she should be overjoyed now that her husband (Channing Tatum, “Magic Mike”) has been released from prison, but cannot seem to see a bright side to the situation. Extremely depressed, she attempts suicide and meets Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, “Sherlock Holmes”), a psychiatrist freelancing at the local hospital. After consulting Emily’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones, “Chicago”), Dr. Banks prescribes her an experimental drug to help her manage her depression. The drug causes Emily to sleepwalk, often cooking elaborate meals while in this state, and it is during one of these episodes when she kills her husband.

Accepting a plea-bargain, Emily is sent to a mental institution while Dr. Banks’ practice and life falls apart; he is unwilling to accept his role in the situation, believing that he is in no way responsible for what transpired. In a quest to clear his name, and conscious, he begins to dissect everything and everyone involved in the case and uncovers the terrible truth behind the story.

“Side Effects” is one of those films where it is difficult to explain it without giving away the ending, both because everything about it is so intertwined and because you feel the need to just tell people what happens; so on that note, the plot is well constructed and we will leave it at that. The actors are what makes the film work as well as it does, with great performances from all of the major players. Law delivers an engaging performance, playing obsessed, unraveling, determined and smugly scheming extremely well, sometimes layered all at the same time in his character, while Mara’s performance is dynamic, forcing the audience to sympathize with her originally only to loathe her later on. The interactions between Law and Zeta-Jones are equal parts maddening (as the audience knows important information is often being hidden) and dramatically exciting.

Music is used very effectively throughout the film in order to add to the escalating tension as the story progresses. The pace of the film is managed well, but once all of the pieces of the puzzle are put together it could have moved a bit quicker, although it is not distracting enough to take you wholly out of the film. Overall, “Side Effects” is an exciting mystery, practically from start to finish, with a fantastic cast.

“Side Effects” is rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language and runs 106 minutes. It is in theaters now.