Rooney Mara left her mark on the film industry just over a year ago by playing the celebrated character Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects, she leaves many marks. Emily Taylor (Mara) suffers from a kind of a multiple personality disorder, going from exhilarated to depressed in a matter of minutes, and Mara pulls off each side of Emily convincingly. Emily’s mental issues are clearly not unprovoked. Her husband, wealthy Wall Street mogul Martin (Channing Tatum) enters her life quickly at a very young age, and almost just as fast, he is arrested for insider trading. When he returns, Emily is noticeably different – and suicidal. As the layers of her life start to crumble and the numerous provocations for a horrible crime she commits are revealed, the film becomes a more and more interesting character study while at the same time become less and less specifically about Emily.
Enter Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), Emily’s psychiatrist, who has had to rebuild his own life after a scandal that threatened his career. He’s tipped off about a new drug that may help Emily by fellow psychiatrist Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and when he learns that the pharmaceutical company who makes the drug is offering cash to doctors who prescribe the product to patients, he’s fully on board. That’s when things really start to unravel. Jude Law’s Banks is reminiscent of the classic Hitchcock characters who become victims of circumstance, and as he tries to unravel this mystery, he becomes the anchor of the film. It’s a good thing for Law, who’s recently had a string of financially/screen-time disappointing films outside of the Sherlock Holmes series (Repo Men, Rise of the Guardians, 360, Anna Karenina), and he delivers a punch of a performance. Near-flawlessly written by Scott Z. Burns (The Informant!), Side Effects works on multiple levels: it’s an investigation of the pharmaceutical industry, it’s a layered and dark thriller, and it’s a fascinating character study of someone on the edge of madness. If Soderbergh is true to his word and the upcoming HBO Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra will be his last movie, then he’s going out on a high note with Side Effects.