*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Steven Soderbergh's 'Side Effects', first appears as if it's designed as a critique of psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry. Ultimately, it becomes more like a Hitchcock thriller. It's a film that keeps your interest but you'll have to suspend your disbelief quite a bit, to appreciate it.
Rooney Mara (looking quite more appealing than her stint as angry Goth in 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'), plays Emily Taylor, a seemingly depressed wife of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum), who has just come home after doing four years in prison for insider trading.
When it appears that she tries to kill herself by slamming her car into a wall in a parking garage, she's assigned to a psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (winningly played by Jude Law). Banks is a fairly typical psychiatrist who prescribes one psychotropic medication after another, hoping that Emily's mood will change. Still feeling forlorn, Banks consults with Emily's former psychiatrist, Victoria (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who recommends that Emily be placed on a new experimental drug, Ablixa. Banks takes the pharmaceutical company's money and convinces Emily to participate in the study.
The stakes are raised when seemingly despondent Emily stabs husband Martin to death but claims she can't remember anything and blames everything on the Ablixa. Suddenly, Banks is no longer the complacent psychiatrist but is now a scapegoat, as the press blames him for dispensing the medication which everyone assumes is the cause of Emily's violent outburst. His patients start leaving him in droves and he's investigated by the State Licensing Board. Furthermore, the pharmaceutical company drops him as one of the testers of the Ablixa study.
Soon, Banks figures out that there's something much more sinister underfoot. Like Hitchcock's 'Wrong Man', he now must clear his name. As Emily has taken a plea bargain in which she pleads guilty by reason of insanity, Banks is assigned to be her psychiatrist at the Ward's Island Criminal Psychiatric facility, and has full say as to whether she will be eventually released or not. And here is where I had the biggest problem with this film. If Banks' reputation is so in tatters (he's been smeared in the press) and the state licensing board is investigating him, why would the court even entertain the idea that he should continue to be involved with Emily? And without this caveat, the film's denouement, could never develop as it does.
So let's suspend our disbelief over this major plot point and see whether the rest of 'Side Effects' has any more credibility. As it turns out, Banks does indeed figure out that Emily was faking all along that she was depressed. He also discovers that Banks turned out to be the former lover of her former psychiatrist, Victoria, who convinces Emily to participate in an incredible scheme to drive the stock price down of pharmaceutical company who's been promoting Ablixa. By selling short, Emily and Victoria end up making a bundle but once Banks figures everything out, he forces Emily to wear a wire and rat out Victoria.
It's pretty much a fantastic scheme and again it involves more suspension of disbelief, since it's not guaranteed that the stock price will go down that much, where the two schemers, will actually make a big profit. Nonetheless, it could remotely happen. Banks being in cahoots with the Assistant District Atttorney to turn Emily but then falsifying her personality profile and illegally ordering her to take mind numbing psychotropic medications such as Thorazine, to shut up her up, seems beyond the pale. Would an ADA risk his job to participate in such an illegal, revenge scheme? I hardly think so.
It's also a bit ironic that a psychiatrist who exceeds his authority by authorizing the administration of psychotropic medications when they are not needed, appears justified, since the patient in question, has gotten away with murder. Whether you like this final scenario or not, one wonders why Emily didn't have an attorney who could have worked to expose Banks' illegal actions. It just seemed a little too easy in the way that Banks, along with his allies, so easily were able to keep Emily as a zombie (all doped up with her medications), without any other third parties becoming involved in her case, and perhaps discovering that the 'good guys' (i.e. Banks and company), were suddenly doing a bunch of bad things.
'Side Effects' is a passable 'Hollywood-type' thriller. It has the requisite good acting and interesting plot reversals, but ultimately not everything adds up.