SIDE EFFECTS Review

by     Posted 1 year, 265 days ago

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For better or for ill, we’re living through chemistry.  It is not a new phenomenon, but it is one that has drastically accelerated, and one with dangerous consequences we can’t escape.  Arguably the most dangerous is the field of anti-depressants/anti-anxiety drugs.  These drugs have value, but their effectiveness, and more importantly, their prescription, is always uncertain.  We’re flawed individuals who are asking for psychological help from other flawed people.  Steven Soderbergh‘s Side Effects spends its first-half exploring this fascinating and complicated issue, but in its second-half, the film ceases to explore the mind, and becomes a mind-numbingly idiotic thriller.

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is suffering from depression even though her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison after a four-year stint for insider trading.  After Emily apparently tries to commit suicide, she begins seeing Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes a variety of medications even though he has an uncomfortably cozy but professionally common relationship with a pharmaceutical company.  When he prescribes the drug Ablixa at the recommendation of Emily’s former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the ramifications turn dire, and Jonathan’s life begins to fall apart as a result.

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The first-half of Side Effects is filled with sharp insights into our relationship with modern medicine.  When Jonathan prescribes an SSRI, he explains to Emily, “It stops the brain from telling you you’re sad,” even though sadness is a healthy emotion and shouldn’t be shut down completely.  Later, Jonathan spouts off lines like “Medication makes it easier to be who you are,” and “Depression is the inability to construct a future.”  Law’s performance leaves no doubt that Jonathan truly believes he’s helping his patients, but his platitudes belie a rehearsed, detached attitude.  While the film is never a screed on the psychiatric industry, it’s hard to miss the inclusion of ads for medication, or how various pharmaceutical companies push a product over an individual patient’s mental health.

The movie is at its most rewarding when it explores how drugs affect our personalities.  When Jonathan says, “Medication makes it easier to be who you are,” it immediately raises the question, “Who are we?”  Someone who’s depressed due to biological and genetic circumstance is truly a depressed person.  There’s no escape and no way to will oneself to happiness.  Jonathan misunderstands depression as the inability to construct a future when it’s actually the inability to imagine happiness in that future or at any point*.  If Emily is truly depressed, then medication is to bring her to a state of normalcy, but is that her true self?  What does medication do to us?

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And while Side Effects isn’t a direct attack on psychiatrists (and it has nothing but sympathy for Jonathan in the second-half), it does correctly note how the decision to prescribe medication is a crapshoot.  Jonathan doesn’t get the right medication for Emily on the first try, and later he starts wondering if they need to start supplementing her medication with other medication.  Jonathan isn’t a bad person, but he’s flying as blind as any other psychiatrist.  That’s the trick of “better living through chemistry.”  We technically have the tools for better living, but those tools are clumsily applied when it comes to psychology.  When you hurt your leg, your doctor doesn’t screw around trying to figure out the best brand of brace.  The same can’t be said of psychiatric drugs.

The questions revolving around the film’s first-half turn Side Effects into more of a think-piece rather than a thriller even though the movie begins with the disturbing image of a bloodstained floor before cutting back to three months earlier.  For those willing to engage with the issues in the film’s first-half, Side Effects is a little dry but never dull.  Soderbergh keeps us in the mood with a bleary-eyed approach that keeps us in Emily’s numb, detached state.

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But about halfway through, the film flips into a thriller and everything falls apart.  Not only does Side Effects become completely reliant on increasingly moronic twists, but everything thoughtful in the first-half is undermined by revelations in the second-half.  Jonathan starts out as a relatable and flawed psychiatrist, but the story requires him to become an excellent detective and expert manipulator.  He’s no longer the everyshrink, but someone who should have become a P.I. instead of M.D.  I won’t reveal any details about the increasingly contrived plot other than to say that it gives the film a bitter aftertaste that’s unworthy of Soderbergh’s usually sharp filmmaking.

The script feels like writer Scott Z. Burns ran out of story at the film’s turning point, and rather than dig deeper into the thoughtful issues that were raised in the first-half, he threw them out the window to stumble through a paranoid thriller that comes out of nowhere.  The movie can drop a reference to William Styron‘s seminal memoir on depression, Darkness Visible, or show us how Jonathan is “descending into madness”, but these moves are unworthy of the intelligent observations from earlier in the story.  Side Effects never quite grasps the nature of depression, but it does a good job of creating the frustration of withdrawal.

Rating: C-

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*Jodie Foster‘s The Beaver isn’t a good film, but it perfectly depicts depression with regards to Mel Gibson‘s performance at the beginning of the movie.




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  • Deep

    This movie is certified fresh in Rotten tOmatoes got positive points in metascore too.

    • Ryan D

      Matt has a strange taste in movies. You might want to accept that.

  • Dobby

    I saw this last night and thought it was a taut excellent thriller with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. A refreshing, entertaining movie after months of giant pompous blockbusters. I really liked it. Certainly didn’t think it was idiotic or moronic… Each to his own I guess.

  • Jason Howler

    For a better and thorough review of Side Effects without having to read Matt Goldberg’s stupidity as typed while he was taking a shit, please read Roger Ebert’s review of the film, a critic who can ACTUALLY WRITE WORTH A DAMN:

    http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20130206/REVIEWS/130129970

  • The Airplane Man

    “a mind-numbingly idiotic thriller.”
    JUST SHUT UP, Matt Goldberg. You can’t write if your life depended on it. Just shut the hell up!

    • JW.

      What sucks is he seemed to be on a good track til that little tid-bit.

  • Josh

    Mike Turburg loves shitting on great movies. FUCK THIS FUCKING FAT BALDING PRICK.

  • DC

    I don’t even know where to begin….

    I caught the 10:00PM showing of this movie last night. Soderbergh has been one of my favorite directors, although I still haven’t been able to catch Magic Mike, due to the fact that….well, it’s Magic Mike and I’m a straight male (eventually I will check my insecurities at the door and watch the well reviewed flick, but give me some time to convince the wife that I want to see it for its cinematic value, not dudes in g strings). I thought Side Effects was one of his best efforts, right up there with Contagion, The Informant!, Sex, Lies, and Videotape, and Traffic. The acting was great, the story was interesting, and the twists, albeit occasionally a bit over the top, were both shocking and unexpected.

    My instincts are to troll the ever living fuck out of Matt Goldberg, but I am going to hold back on that. Ever since he gave Warm Bodies a B grade (in a genre he typically shits on) after being an extra on that particular movie, shot all of his critical credibility to hell. This should be a rule: IF YOU ARE AN EXTRA IN A MOVIE, YOU SHOULD NOT BE DOING THE REVIEW.

    His review here seemed to be completed before he even sat down and watched the movie. I don’t understand what it takes for this guy to enjoy a movie without finding SOME flaw in it. There have been tens of thousands of movies produced since the inception of motion pictures, and very few movies are “perfect”. Side Effects is far from perfect, but it was a damn good modern day thriller that’s not a popcorn tent pole flick, obscure indie hipster dramadey, or Oscar bait. It’s just a solid, interesting thriller that stays with you long after the movie is over.

    I think instead of trolling and flaming Goldberg, someone should start a petition to remove him from doing a majority of the reviews on here (so many other talented, non biased writers here who would relish at the opportunity). As much as I want to call this guy every filthy name in the book, I find that internet trolling is probably the lowest of the low when it comes to human decency. Sure, you can be a tough guy from your computer/smart phone and say awful things about someone, but after a while, you just have to accept that some people are cynical, opinionated, and annoy you to a point where you want to punch through your computer screen in hopes of somehow connecting with the face on the other end. Alas, that is physically impossible, so I will continue to disagree with 99% of this guys reviews, and also continue to not put any stock whatsoever in his reviews.

    • Nerdgasm

      You people make me laugh. He may not be a real Journalist or a real critic but his job is to find flaws in a movie and to find the good parts. I actually think Matt’s reviews are a breath of fresh air. People put Roger Ebert on a pedestal but his bad reviews of every movie and good reviews of every movie all read the same. It’s like he copy and pastes and then adds in new actor names and movie titles. People don’t understand reading reviews… a reviewer usually gives you two sides. The good and the bad which Matt does here. People get up in arms about Matt when they don’t agree with him. GREAT! You have your own opinion? im glad your fucking brain works…just dont slam another person for having their own. I saw this movie in a sneak peak a week back…it’s a run of the mill thriller. nothing special and i agree with a lot of what Matt Said about it.

  • Analia

    Matt is a great critic. If you do not like his review do not read it.

    • Dobby

      Yup, I don’t agree with a lot of his reviews, but it’s his site, if you don’t like his reviews, don’t read his stuff. It’s a free country… Well, kinda.

      • odiekevin

        Agreed, its a free country. Which means that he’s free to write his reviews and everyone else is free to object to them. I never get that argument, at least not when it’s used in the way that 99% of people use it. “He can say or do this because it’s a free country. However, the ‘freeness’ of this country does not extend to your ability to criticize him for it, so you should not do it and should be prevented from inhibiting others ‘freedoms’.” The only people that seem to want a less free country are the people who are constantly shouting about how free we are. And don’t bother to get all upset and respond to this post. Its a free country, so I had a right to say this. But you should not comment back, and to do so would be a violation of my rights.

      • Nerdgasm

        You’re an idiot. I don’t think those arguments are ever to say that someone shouldn’t be able to comment back. It’s the blatant hate and wanting to boycott him as if he doesn’t have a right to say the things he does that brings up this argument. Your dumb psychobabble means shit. Stop posting.

  • Dobby

    Yup, I don\’t agree with a lot of his reviews, but it\’s his site, if you don\’t like his reviews, don\’t read his stuff. It\’s a free country… Well, kinda.

  • odiekevin

    Agreed, its a free country. Which means that he\’s free to write his reviews and everyone else is free to object to them. I never get that argument, at least not when it\’s used in the way that 99% of people use it. \"He can say or do this because it\’s a free country. However, the \’freeness\’ of this country does not extend to your ability to criticize him for it, so you should not do it and should be prevented from inhibiting others \’freedoms\’.\" The only people that seem to want a less free country are the people who are constantly shouting about how free we are. And don\’t bother to get all upset and respond to this post. Its a free country, so I had a right to say this. But you should not comment back, and to do so would be a violation of my rights.

  • Kale

    I’m not going to downgrade your opinion, but I will suggest that since soderbergh is taking a break, you should do a Collision report on Steven Soderbergh and Side Efffects. This way you don’t have to do another podcast about J.J Abrams or Identity Thief and why that movie is terrible.

  • Kale

    Sorry for the extra comments! I’m having a tech malfunction.

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