“Side Effects” opens with Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) being released from prison after serving a four-year sentence for insider trading. His wife Emily (Rooney Mara) is frail, severely depressed, and disinterested in Martin’s re-entering her life. Soon her world unravels as she becomes dependent upon a new, experimental antidepressant prescribed by Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), on the recommendation of Emily’s previous therapist Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
The side effects of the antidepressant seem to be the cause for Emily committing a horrific crime and Banks mounts a defense to keep her from being convicted. The crime is bad, really bad. But the question is not who did it but who should be held responsible? What follows is a dark quest for the diabolical truth of this tragedy. You think you know what’s happening — but you don’t. Almost every character has secrets, lies, and hidden motives.
Rooney Mara is stunning as the wounded woman who seems to have been victimized by the antidepressant prescribed to heal her. As her counterpoint, Jude Law gives an almost flawless performance as a self-doubting character who struggles with the consequences and repercussions of his actions defending Emily. Both Law’s and Mara’s characters cause the viewer to vacillate between allegiance and sympathy for one over the other in a dizzying set of changing circumstances. The scenes they share are the most arresting in their complexity and ambiguity of the facts.
By releasing only one detail at a time, we are kept wading through interviews, court hearings, false turns, and psychiatrist visits until, finally, everything comes together. The entire film is very subdued, impeccably structured, and intricate in plot. You will be rewarded in the end as the spiraling momentum towards the conclusion is so unexpected and mostly unpredictable until its final scene. This film is purportedly Steven Soderbergh’s last work before retiring. Don’t miss it!
[Available on Netflix.]