By John Thomas Staff Writer
If there’s one crime I can’t forgive in a piece of art, it’s a lack of purpose. “Side Effects” doesn’t expand on cinema or offer an interesting interpretation of what has come before. More than that, director Steven Soderbergh is somehow able to craft a film that offers no commentary, of substance or otherwise, on any of society’s issues. Even Seth Rogen has him there. Really, for a film that is about the ever-contentious issues of mental health and corruption within the pharmaceutical industry, I was surprised that it held no challenge on either of the subjects.
Emily Taylor, the sort-of-protagonist played by Rooney Mara, is so devoid of morality that I wasn’t able to attach even a shred of sympathy to her plight. She betrays every single person she comes into contact with throughout the film. Jude Law plays semi-ethical psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks, and while he doesn’t consciously do anything devious, he never engages in any noble actions. While he assists the poor plot in revealing the twist of the film – that Mara’s character killed her husband on purpose, her mental health deteriorated by the side effects of her medication – the only reason he does so is to save his own behind.
It was a cunning twist to write Emily as a mentally ill person who thinks she’s pretending to be mentally ill for monetary and emotional gain, but all that does is remove any commentary the film could have had on the effects of psychiatry. I was also displeased that the climactic reveal was that Emily and her psychiatrist were having an affair. Being queer shouldn’t be played off as a sultry, forbidden plot device. This dull melodrama of Soderbergh’s last movie leaves him vilifying only himself.
I will say that Mara gave a wonderfully nuanced performance. The scene in which Emily kills her husband, while in an emotionless haze we’re supposed to think is a side effect of her medication, gave me tangible chills. Mara sharpened Emily’s sociopathic tendencies to devastating effect. Channing Tatum was enjoyable to watch as well. In his short time on screen, he exhibited a truly caring, empathetic ex-con, the only character I had any sort of emotional connection with. However, they’re not nearly enough to validate the picture. Jude Law offers a bit more appeal than normal, but Catherine Zeta-Jones is just as basic and bland as always.
“Side Effects” is not a bad movie. While I didn’t enjoy it, fans of Jude Law’s movies probably will. I can’t recommend it, but it’s fine for a mindless popcorn gobbler.