johnlink ranks SIDE EFFECTS (2013)

SIDE EFFECTS is a throwback thriller by director Steven Soderbergh. Not filled with gratuitous nudity enough to be a 90s Michael Douglas movie and not tame enough to be a 50s paranoia flick, this is a film which mixes a simple story-line (even if it is filled with twists) and narrowly focused sensibilities. Is it good? We will consider that below. The second half of the review will contain some spoilers, but I will give that warning in advance.


I watched SIDE EFFECTS (2013) on 2.19.14. It was my first viewing of the film.

In a couple of decades, when we look back on the directors of the early 21st century, Steven Soderbergh will be one of a dozen or so directors which are discussed as true auteurs. We can identify a Soderbergh film when we see one, even if they vary greatly in tone and subject matter.

SIDE EFFECTS is one of his most humorless entries. Not that it is without merit or without strength, but it is a movie which takes itself very seriously. The story has a young wife, Emily (Rooney Mara), seeing the return of her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), from a four year prison stint for insider trading. Before the timeline of the movie, she had seen a Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) for depression. As the film starts, an early incident throws her back into depression. Her new doctor is Dr. Banks (Jude Law).

The first half of the film has to do with Emily trying various medications with mixed results. Ultimately, she tries a drug called Ablixa. Aside from some sleepwalking, she sees wonderful results. The first act twist happens surprisingly late in the movie, though it works as a way of throwing the entire film into turmoil. A prologue scene starting the film ruins the surprise. While, thematically, this scene makes sense as taking place before the action, it does serve to kill the suspense of the moment when it happens later.

Rooney Mara does not particularly shine here. While she has proved her ability in the past, this film mutes her into a facade of melancholy. While some of this is attributed to the role, this isn’t a film in which she fully nails the landing. Jude Law is fine, Tatum doesn’t have much to do, and Zeta-Jones presence belies what seems to be a very small part in the first hour of the film.

All in all this is an entertaining enough film which has some good twisty bits. The plot is good enough, even if the last scene is laughable. The acting isn’t spectacular, but this isn’t a heavy film. My scores are at the bottom if you care, but the rest of this thing will be spoiler heavy, so proceed only if you’ve seen it and care to hear why it is probably my least favorite Soderbergh film thus far.


Still here? Great. So… this is the most anti-woman film I’ve seen in years. I don’t think Soderbergh is any kind of misogynist, he has too many strong female characters in too many movies. Same goes for writer Scott Z. Burns, whose CONTAGION has plenty of room for strong females.

Yet, somehow, SIDE EFFECTS manages to have no redeeming females whatsoever. Let’s go over them all.

Emily. So this is your last chance to run away if you don’t want the movie ruined. Ok? Ok. So Emily is, obviously, a deceptive and heartless bitch. She has all the right and reason to walk away from her husband when he is arrested. She could absolutely, at 23 or 24 or whatever she was, start over. Instead, she waits four years for him to get out of prison so that she can kill him and make money off of him. Who wastes four years of their 20s to commit murder and (hopefully) make money? A bitch.

Dr. Siebert. Dumb, for one. She implicates herself regularly. The film waits for the climax to record her admission of guilt. However, she says two or three things to Dr. Banks which would do the same if he just hit record on his iPhone. So, at worse, she is dumb. Alternatively, she is in a loveless marriage and succumbs to Emily’s suddenly lesbian wiles. Oh wait. That is not an alternative. She’s dumb. A dumb doctor.

Emily’s boss (Polly Draper). Pure plot device. She admits, to an employee, the anti-depression medication she has been on and why Emily should take something else. The one time she meets Dr. Banks she turns into a puddle admiring his sexiness.

Deidre Banks (Vinessa Shaw). This is Dr. Banks wife. She doesn’t believe him, doesn’t stand by him. The first time she meets Emily she scoffs at her like she is above her. The movie introduces her as an unsympathetic and jealous wife at that point, and then later asks us to see her side. The movie cares about her so little that we don’t even see her make up with Dr. Banks at the end. Instead we see Dr. Banks pick up her son (from a previous relationship) at school and then get in a car with her. The son with no lines is more important than the wife.

Martin’s mother (Ann Dowd). Initially introduced as sympathetic, she serves as an unwitting pawn as she does the admirable thing and blames the drugs, rather than Emily, for her son’s death. The movie then forgets about her before inexplicably allowing her to apprehend Emily at the film’s end alongside the police. Such an afterthought that the movie can’t bother to make sense when it thrusts her back in.

Drug Rep (Andrea Bogart) – She gives Dr. Banks a job for $50,000 for getting patients to test a drug. She gives the bad news that he is fired when shit hits the fan. But then, for no reason, she talks about how thankful she is that all this bad stuff happened since it made the stocks go up. It was foreshadowing. But, again, left to a woman to be bitchy in a sensitive situation.

Banks Partner 2 (Laila Robins). Perhaps the worst, the movie picks her to be the bitch of the two partners (the other male of course) who condemns Banks when things get bad and thinks only of herself. As this unraveled before my eyes I was trying to figure out why this character was there. I still can’t figure it out other than by reading the film as anti-woman.

I suppose you could say that noone in this film but Dr. Banks is sympathetic. You might have a point. But the husband seems to want to improve things. His friend wants to help him. Dr. Banks male colleague is sympathetic until Dr. Banks comes across as desperate. The cop who read things wrong shoots straight in his failures before redeeming himself at the end. Most all the bad news and evil people are left to be women.

Is this valid? Who knows. But I immediately finished this film and could not help but feel like it hated women. And that, at least, means something.


My film score considers filmmaking and theme. Usually they go hand-in-hand. Sometimes great thematic work trumps mediocre filmmaking. Sometimes, like in this case, an out of hand thematic thrust drastically drops a score which would be higher if we just considered the cinematography, mise-en-scene, editing, etc.





~ by johnlink00 on February 20, 2014.

2 Responses to “johnlink ranks SIDE EFFECTS (2013)”

  1. Good review John. I had a bunch of fun with this, even though it would get bat-shit crazy sometimes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: