Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 24th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Identity Thefts

film seMood-altering pills power nifty thriller 'Side Effects'

Obfuscation is the name of the game in Steven Soderbergh's intricate new thriller Side Effects. The kind of tense drama for which the words "taut" and "twisty" are usually strung together in a sentence, this dark tale of sex, lies, and pharmaceutical skullduggery is a masterpiece of misdirection, artfully calibrated so that the viewer—like the film's overly medicated characters—often has no idea what may or may not be going on. In retrospect, even the preview trailer (which has been playing around town for weeks) fools around with our expectations, so that the film itself is still full of nifty surprises.

Scripted by Scott Z. Burns (who also wrote Soderbergh's Contagion), the story revolves around Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a young woman battling depression. She was accustomed to living large back in Connecticut—parties, boat, mansion—until her yuppie stockbroker husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), went to prison for insider trading. Emily has gotten a job and moved to an apartment in New York City, but now that Martin is getting out again, she doesn't know how to cope.

Martin is full of big plans, promising Emily, "I can get us back to where we were." But she complains that the anti-anxiety drugs she's been taking interfere with her work, her sleep, and her sex drive. When the car she's driving has a close encounter with a brick wall, she lands in a downtown hospital for observation. The psychiatrist who happens to be making the rounds that day is Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who also has a successful practice and chic clientele elsewhere in the city. Dr. Banks is a thoughtful, caring guy, first introduced as he quietly intervenes between an angry cop and a seemingly violent patient; Banks speaks French to the patient, a cab driver from Haiti, and calms him down.

Banks clears Emily to go home, with the stipulation that she start seeing him in his private practice. Attempting to regulate her meds, he consults with Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who was Emily's therapist in Connecticut. Between them, they decide that Banks should prescribe an experimental new drug called Ablixa. Emily is delighted that Ablixa seems to be restoring her equilibrium in so many ways—except for one unexpected side effect. Before long, Dr. Banks is drawn into a sensational murder scandal that threatens his practice, his family, his career, and possibly even his own sanity.

Soderbergh is smart to use a supple actor like Law in the pivotal role of Dr. Banks; Law's surface is so smooth and perfect, it often seems like a facade, and we never know what demons might be roiling away underneath. He can play earnest compassion and crazed obsession with equal dexterity, and as Dr. Banks is dragged ever deeper into the labyrinthine plot, we're always a little off-balance as to which aspect of his personality we're seeing.

Mara too is gifted with another complicated role to follow up her Oscar-nominated performance in the English-language remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Although mousy anxiety is Emily's usual M.O. (her smiles are rare—and dazzling), Mara also gives her moments of stark, chilling power, which are just as credible.

Meanwhile, beyond the thriller plot, Soderbergh delves with relish into the larger milieu of a society in which external medication is promoted as the answer to every problem—real or imagined. Large pharmaceutical cartels pay therapists big bucks to peddle new meds to their patients, or else provide free drugs to anyone willing to participate in a study, while doctors assure their patients that this or that mood-altering drug "makes it easier to be who you are."

Figuring out who anybody is, on or off drugs, is the key to the mystery at the heart of Side Effects. Soderbergh gives us plenty of clues along the way, although it's not until the end that we realize how cleverly it all fits together. If, indeed, this is Soderbergh's last film (and that's the rumor), he leaves us with a dark, compact thriller about identity, responsibility, and consequences.  

film sideeffects

★★★(out of four)

Watch film trailer >>>

With Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Written by Scott Z. Burns. Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
An Open Road release. Rated R. 106 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Best of Santa Cruz County 2014

The 2014 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll Come on in, and have a look around. There’s a lot to see—hundreds of winners selected by thousands of GT readers across Santa Cruz County. So if some of this looks familiar, it’s probably because you helped make it happen. But there are always new things to discover, too—you could go to a different winner or runner-up every day in the Food and Drink category alone, and you’d be booked just about until next year’s Best of Santa Cruz County issue comes out.


Something Essential Disappears

Lunar and solar eclipses follow one another. Lunar eclipses occur at full moons, and solar eclipses at new moons. Two weeks ago at the full moon we had the blood red moon—a total lunar eclipse (the next one is Oct. 8). On Monday night, April 28 (new moon), as the Sun, Moon and Earth align, a solar eclipse (Sun obscured) occurs. Eclipses signify something irrevocably is changed in our world. The Sun is our essential life force. Monday’s new moon, 9 degrees Taurus, is also an annular solar eclipse when the Moon moves centrally in front of the Sun, yet does not cover the Sun completely. The Sun's outer edges, still visible, form a “ring of fire” around the Moon.


Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.


Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments


Palate-Stretching 101

A wine education with Soif’s experts As a veteran of many weekend wine “seminars” at Soif, I have to confess that I’ve never known less (going in) and learned more (coming out) than I did last week at the Spanish Wine Tasting with ace rep Brian Greenwood. These are classy, casual events and it’s hard to imagine having this much flavor fun anywhere for $20.


Martin Ranch Winery

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 One of my favorite wines is Sauvignon Blanc, and this one made by Martin Ranch is particularly lovely. Bright, crisp and refreshing, it’s perfect to pair with fish and shellfish—and good for picnics as it has an easy screw-cap bottle. There’s nothing worse than setting down your blanket, pulling out your sandwiches—and then realizing you don’t have a corkscrew.


Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.


How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management