SIDE EFFECTS. Thriller that will make you jump in your seat

It’s not easy to write about Steven Soderbergh’s film, and it’s certainly not because it’s difficult or incomprehensible cinema.

Krzysztof Walecki

23 March 2024

SIDE EFFECTS. Thriller that will make you jump in your seat

Quite the contrary – Side Effects is a finely crafted thriller that hides nothing more than the desire to provide entertainment to the audience. The acclaimed director has often experimented with genres, creating images more intended for film scholars than fans of a particular film type, as evidenced by his action film Haywire.

This time with Side Effects he decided to shoot an elegant, almost Hitchcockian crime drama, without formal quirks or playing with chronology. This is excellent news for fans of such cinema. It’s somewhat less great for someone like me who can’t write too much about the plot, let alone the direction in which this story is heading.

Side Effects Jude Law Catherine Zeta-Jones

Martin Taylor has spent the last four years in prison, accused of stock fraud, and now he’s getting out. His wife, Emily, is overjoyed, but she quickly begins to show signs of depression and even suicidal tendencies. In the hospital, she meets Dr. Jonathan Banks, a psychiatrist, whom she starts seeing for sessions. The prescribed medications don’t yield satisfactory results until Emily starts taking the widely advertised Ablixy. Joy and life return to the Taylor marriage, and the depression disappears as if by magic, but there is a price to pay in the form of side effects of the medication – Emily starts sleepwalking. Soon, tragedy strikes.

If you like well-written and surprising thrillers devoid of action scenes, then stop reading this review right now and book yourself a ticket to the cinema. I intentionally won’t reveal who the main character of Side Effects is. I won’t even write against what or whom he or she will have to fight. The joy of experiencing Soderbergh‘s new film partly stems from the constant changes. Somewhere around the forty-minute mark, there is a series of changes – first the character changes, then the issues, and with them, the weight of the story. Medication and the pharmaceutical industry play a significant role here, but quite different from what one might initially think.

Side Effects Rooney Mara

Speaking of surprises, please don’t think of Side Effects as a successor to films like The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense, or Shutter Island. Soderbergh doesn’t try to shock the audience with one precise twist. Instead, he serves scenes, even seemingly unimportant shots, which start to play a significant role as the plot unfolds. At the same time, seemingly obvious scenes take on a new meaning. What’s most interesting, an hour doesn’t pass when the whole story seems to be heading towards an obvious conclusion. It’s already “after the fact” when the main character decides to fight, even though the only thing he cares about is clearing his name. It’s not life that’s at stake, but reputation, and that in New York is apparently priceless.

Side Effects Rooney Mara Channing Tatum

Soderbergh begins his film with a camera zooming in on the building where the Taylors live. The camera approaches the window of their apartment, where a drama has just unfolded. In the final shot of  however, the camera moves away from the window of the building – but it’s already a psychiatric hospital. The message is clear – we are all sick, regardless of whether we are confined or not. Played by Jude Law, Dr. Banks explains his move from England and taking up work in the USA by the fact that American patients approach visits to psychiatrists differently – they want to get better. The trust bestowed upon the doctor seems natural and stems from caring about oneself. But it also works the other way around. Scott Z. Burns’ screenplay sensationally reveals the dependencies between the doctor and the patient – at some point, we wonder who has more control over whom.

Side Effects Jude Law

Acting-wise, the film stands at a very high level, and it’s hard to fault not only the stars (in addition to Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, and Catherine Zeta-Jones also star), but also the supporting and episodic actors. Among the characters, there are a few gems, such as Martin’s mother, the prosecuting attorney, or the interrogator questioning Banks, who is to determine whether there has been negligence on the part of the psychiatrist. Even the doctor’s associates – on screen for no more than two minutes – make a sensational impression. The whole film is beautifully photographed by the director and accompanied by good, unobtrusive music by Thomas Newman.

Side Effects Catherine Zeta-Jones

I don’t want to unnecessarily lengthen this review, as there’s no need. Side Effects won’t go down in cinema history as a masterpiece, or even as one of Soderbergh’s best films. It won’t contend for major awards, and it’s doubtful it will make it into the top ten when critics choose their picks at the end of the year. However, it leaves a pleasant impression. It’s a film that, perhaps contrary to the description, aims to provide viewers with unobtrusive entertainment and a few thoughts on human nature. I know it sounds harmless for a thriller. The director himself is aware of it, but he still manages to make the whole audience jump in their seats when the right moment comes. And then it gets even better.