Side Effects

Film, Thrillers
4 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(21user reviews)
Side Effects

The latest film – maybe the last; more on that later – from Steven Soderbergh is a slippery one. It’s a pacy, sleight-of-hand thriller that satisfies as unabashed, borderline schlocky genre fun. It’s also full of sly digs at consumerism and the love of money, and it presents itself as the beguiling cinematic swansong of perhaps the most intriguing Hollywood auteur of his generation.

‘Side Effects’ stars Channing Tatum as Martin, a former Wall Street hotshot about to leave jail. There’s Rooney Mara as his nervy wife Emily,  Jude Law as Jonathan, a shrink who treats her after she drives her car into a wall, and Catherine Zeta-Jones as her last psychiatrist, Victoria, who suggests Jonathan try her on an new anti-depressant.

Set in a coolly observed New York of fractured grids and watching eyes, a world of careerism, materialism and one-upmanship, the film establishes Martin and Emily’s marriage, and that of Jonathan and his wife (Vinessa Shaw), as rocky from the start. A bloody crisis jolts us into a pinball machine of legal proceedings, Big Pharma shenanigans and media feeding frenzies. Then a succession of twists, bluffs and rug-pullings takes us into pure cat-and-mouse territory.

As a thriller in the Hitchcock mould, ‘Side Effects’ is great fun: its characters are well acted without being entirely likeable, which makes their jeopardy all the more enjoyable while putting us at a clinical remove. The script barrels along at enough of a lick for us to forgive some clunky elements – dodgy dialogue, an over-explained climax. And Soderbergh’s delight in technique is obvious, from masterfully attentive editing to a tendency to look skywards.

Given Soderbergh’s announcement of his retirement from filmmaking, it’s tempting to look at this as a collection of facets of his diverse career. There’s the queasy interpersonal tension with which he made his name (‘sex, lies and videotape’); the interest in mental illness that has marked his career (‘Kafka’, ‘Schizopolis’, ‘The Informant!’); the delight in slippery genre storytelling (‘Out of Sight’, ‘Ocean’s Eleven’); a concern for the impact of big forces on individuals’ lives (‘Erin Brockovich’, ‘Traffic’, ‘Contagion’); and a willingness to flit between these things with speed. But this is also a movie that tells us not to count someone out too soon: rumours of his withdrawal might yet prove exaggerated.


Release details

Release date:
Friday March 15 2013
106 mins

Cast and crew

Steven Soderbergh
Scott Z Burns
Channing Tatum
Rooney Mara
Catherine Zeta-Jones
Jude Law

Average User Rating

3.2 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:6
  • 3 star:9
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:2
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Side effects is an interesting psychological thriller. The story is good; with a number of twists and turns along the way. The subject matter is pretty dark; involving the marketing and side effects of prescribed medication. None of the major characters in the film are nice people, all of them are manipulative and duplicitous, so it is hard to feel empathy when bad things happen to them.

Having said that, Rooney Mara and Jude Law both put in compelling performances and the direction of the film suits the subject matter well. The setting is modern urban you are made to feel the difficulties of their day to day life. 

The dialogue is sharp and the story is clever, a Hitchcock style chiller, that enjoyed a revival in the 1980s, but is out of fashion now. 

In summary, this is a well made movie, that seems little too cold and analytical for its own good now; however, in the future, with the benefit of hindsight, I suspect that this might be one of those films that we look back on as capturing the time. I hope I remember to watch it again in 15 years time.

Rooney Mara saves this movie from being a Lifetime channel offering. She has compelling presence, even when the script leaves her character unfleshed out and weak in motivation. Jude Law is believable--if a bit over eager to convince--as the treating psychiatrist. I disliked Zeta-Jones from the get-go, playing her role with caricature mannerisms and instantly threatening the serious drama I hoped would be sustained. Poor casting, likely her good work in "Traffic" predicted to be duplicated here--not even close. The movie is ultimately disappointing and peters out rather than climaxes. A hard pill to swallow with no side effects worth mulling over.

Soderbergh sure is a great film maker. And I thought it was a clever plot, although the outcome took a little working out. Good performances all round. Worth seeing. My top film by him still remains "sex lies and videotape" though - if only for the hypnotic mood it creates.

Restored my faith in cinema. At last an intelligent film. Could have turned into a "bunny boiler" like Fatal Attraction but kept its nerve.

Cold, sterile drama. The emotionless performances turned in by Mara, Law and Zeta-Jones suit well the frigid feel.

First half holds your attention and entire audience gasped out loud in unison at first shock twist. The plot gradually becomes more and more unbelievable though as it progresses so ultimately is a little unsatisfying. But Mara Rooney does the anguished young woman thing well and Jude Law is fine.

Saw the film last night. Much better than expected. Worth a visit to the cinema.

Time Out HAVE to give it an excellent four stars as it's Soderbergh and Soderbergh = "****" rating no matter what, but at the very least it is actually ALMOST deserved this time. Reminded me of the solid thrillers we used to get far more often when I worked in a cinema for 6 years 2 decades back. 7/10, and a thoroughly decent sign off.

Didnt really get it.. first half was okay, didnt sustain through latter half.

Not the film i would have decided to leave for a long sabbatical on, but it does boast some good performances, (most notably, Rooney Mara). Soderbergh employs a simple aesthetic to a lot of his films, without being too overly stylistic, which makes his films always easily accessible. I liked the little twists - even though you could really see them coming. Instead of being a polemic against the practices of pharmaceseutical companies, it takes a complete u-turn in the second act. Sadly the film never tries to grab you and pull you in like it should.

Been very busy the last few weeks so didn't know much about this film before seeing it yesterday. It's an often tense, psychological thriller with some elaborate plot turns towards the end. Once you get to the end you see how it all clicks into place. I thought Jude Law was excellent even though I normally dislike his roles. Good to see a film aimed at intelligent adults and not full of annoying teenagers / superheros / explosions.

I started to read a review that said the less you know about this film, before you see it, the better and they were right. I spent a couple of weeks avoiding any mention of this film and finally got to see it and loved the twist and turns of the story. It kept my interest to the end and eclipsed the nonsense of Flight and Arbitrage for its storyline. It made sense to me and everything fitted together if you pay attention rather than stuffing your face with junk . Good on the screen, full house tonight btw, and it will be good on dvd too if you have a short attention span. See it.

There was a great film to be made here regarding big pharma's protection of its pills, and for a while we thought Soderbergh had made it, but no, this was just the para-text. it turned out to be a load of old Hitchcock, not bad in itself but ultimately disappointing; we walked out feeling we'd over-dosed.

good movie with a really convincing first half but it fell short from great and gripping, repetitive towards the end

I agree with Alfredo's review pretty much word for word. Good but a bit too up itself at times. The story is good as is the acting. Good but not quite great, Maybe 7 out of 10.

I didn´t understand it - if it wanted to make a statement against the pharma company it was not strong enough

As the plot develops becomes more and more complicated and by the end it makes little sense. However, is a great movie, Soderbergh is the master of the camera, that goes without saying, and the story is absolutely gripping. Recommendable but it's not Hitchcock.

I absolutely loved this film and found myself gasping out loud (embarrassingly) a few times. Jude Law and Rooney Mara are outstanding...I hope this isn't Soderbergh's final film. The less you hear about the film the better..go into it cold.

I absolutely loved this film and found myself gasping out loud (embarrassingly) a few times. Jude Law and Rooney Mara are outstanding...I hope this isn't Soderbergh's final film. The less you hear about the film the better..go into it cold.

A good thriller, with an interesting plot, that makes you think. Despite not being a fan of Mr Law or Mrs Douglas, I thought it was well worth seeing.

This is not a great film. The acting was reasonable with the better performances coming from some of the minor parts - e.g. Jonathan's wife - but the story line was so far fetched and tenuous that there was no tension in the film, which actually became quite tedious. The ending was very contrived (and unconvincing) and the script was n't that great either. Not a great film to end on, but on this evidence time it is understandable why Soderbergh has announced his retirement.