Dear Side Effects,
(Beware, this review contains spoilers)
When we sat down and started quietly conversing about your story and issues with your troubled young lady Emily (Rooney Mara), I quickly discovered that while she is quietly dealing with her husband getting out of prison from a four year stint for insider trading, she also deals with fits of depression. When her mental state seems to deteriorate to the point where she drives her car into a wall in her parking garage, it becomes obvious as she wakes up in the hospital that she is on a downward spiral.
Here is when we meet Dr. Jonathan Banks – portrayed brilliantly by Jude Law – her soon-to-become-regular psychiatrist. He earnestly tries to help her with her depression and suicidal feelings through a range of drugs that don’t work. When he becomes a consultant on a new med in trial, he also decides to switch Emily over to a new drug, Ablixa. However, after a brief period of efficacy, the side effects on Emily prove increasingly serious with Emily sleepwalking for period of time until suddenly, she kills her husband in that state.
After a plea bargain leads to a mental hospital commitment that concurrently leaves Dr. Banks’ practice in ruins, the case seems closed. But I as a viewer already knew it wasn’t to be as I stopped and realized that as good as Rooney Mara is at selling her characters ordeal at times, there were other times where she came up short and it distracted from the convoluted yet rock solid plotline. As she spends time institutionalized, Dr. Banks conducts his own investigation of the series of events and stumbles quite by chance onto clues that lead him to believe something nefarious drove this chain of events.
When Emily’s acting ability shows up at an inopportune time, Dr. Banks plays it cool while becoming a bloodhound on the case. Then, when Emily’s former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert – played with perfect chill by Catherine Zeta-Jones – comes into the mix, her presence allows him to unearth the airtight plan involving the troubled Emily. As he uncovers the details and as things start to unravel, it is his shrewd manipulation of this insane chain of events that leads to a genuine surprise ending. When all is exposed, is when I realize the excellence of this Steven Soderbergh film.
I can’t remember the last time I was so skillfully led through such a tightly delivered, yet plausible story of twists and turns in such a way that ensures every turn of exposition elicits an ah of enlightenment. It is a testament to this movie to deliver a victim that turns out to be such a convincing perpetrator and I’ll leave it at that.
Like all great cases, you will be revisited and I will look forward to examining you closely again.