Friday, February 8, 2013

Side Effects [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L) Roger Ebert (3 1/2 Stars)  AV Club (B+) Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig)'s review
Roger Ebert's review
AV Club (S. Tobias)'s review

Side Effects [2013] (directed by Steven Soderbergh, screenplay by Scott Z. Burns) is a glossy contemporary noirish psychothriller that probably solidifies actress/star Rooney Mara as one of the most compelling if arguably "scariest" (in a "don't mess with her characters" sort of a way ;-) actress of her generation.  In The Social Network [2010], Mara played "the girl who dumped (Facebook co-founder) Mark Zuckerberg."  After seeing her in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [2011] and now Side Effects [2013], one would think that Zuckerberg's character in that film should probably have been grateful to have been "let off" so easily ;-).

Side Effects begins by giving the audience a blood-stained glimpse of a murder scene in what appears to have been a moderately priced apartment "somewhere in the city" (which we soon find out is New York).  What happened?  Well, the film quickly tells us that it's going to transport us to "three months before" this frightful scene.

We meet therefore Emily Taylor (played by Rooney Mara) a young adult working for some small "graphics design" firm in New York, three months before the murder, thanking her boss (played by Polly Draper) in a soft, mildly depressed voice, "for the support" she's given her over the past (unspecified) period of time.  Emily's boss responds with compassion, "Well I know that these things are always far more complicated than what we see reported."

With her boss' blessing then Emily takes the rest of the day off.  Why?  Because she's heading somewhere not altogether far "upstate" to pick-up her husband, Martin Taylor (played by Channing Tatum), who's getting released (after 4 years) from prison following an "insider trading" conviction.  Before arriving at the prison to pick-up her husband, she also stops to pick-up Martin's mother/her mother-in-law (played by Ann Dowd) to take her to the prison as well.  (Apparently, they've been on good terms throughout the ordeal as well).

So Emily and Martin's mom pick Martin up from prison.  Martin remains apologetic to both and promises Emily that quickly bring them back-up to the standard of living that they were accustomed before.  Emily kind of shrugs her shoulders in a disinterested sort of a way and drives them back to the city.  The next scene shows Martin and Emily having sex in the rather small apartment that Emily's taken-up in the city since Martin's arrest and conviction.  After four years of prison, Martin definitely seems "into it," Emily clearly does not, instead just laying on the bed, looking disinterestedly "to the side" appearing to want to avoid looking at her husband.  Again, Martin promises to make things better.  Again, Emily does not seem to care.

A few days later pulling out of her parking spot in a parking garage with her average-looking sedan, she first lazily stops by a parking attendant (who notices enough of her to take note that she's acting somewhat strangely) and then speeds up to smash her car directly into a wall.  We see the airbags inflate...

We next see Emily later that morning at the hospital being interviewed by a Dr. Jonathan Banks (played by Jude Law) an onstaff psychiatrist at the hospital who asks her about "what happened there?" noting that the circumstances of her accident suggested that she "wanted to hurt herself" that morning.   He recommends that she stay at the hospital for observation for a couple of days.  She instead begs him to let her go, telling him part of her sad story (that her husband was just released from prison for a white collar crime; that yes, she's been down/disoriented a bit of late; but that she simply has to be able to go home to her husband that day or else would only get worse, with him as well as with her).  He consents to her request to be released but only on the condition that she come to see him at his practice in the next several days so that she could be treated more or less obvious depression that she's suffering.  She agrees.  He also gives her a prescription to one or another anti-depressant, and they part.

The next several weeks involve Emily coming for appointments to see Dr. Banks several times a week.  During this time, see seems to only be getting worse.  She nearly falls off the platform waiting for a subway train not out of any direct attempt to commit suicide but out of drowsiness or general "out of it-ness" resulting from either her depression or the side-effects of the various anti-depressants that Dr. Banks has been prescribing her.  One day, she simply doesn't come to work to the consternation of her boss who (remember above) had been "patient" before but has been getting increasingly irritated with increasingly "detached" behavior.  Emily tells her that she didn't mean to miss so much work that day, but that she simply "forgot to get off the train."  Emily's boss shakes her head and tells her that this behavior has got to stop because "this is not working for me (as your boss)."

Emily shares these incidents with Dr. Banks who compassionately listens and wonders why none of the medications seem to be working.  At some point, she shares with him that she had been previously seeing another psychiatrist a Dr. Victoria Siebert (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) out in suburban Connecticutt where she and Martin had been living prior to and in the immediate aftermath of Martin's arrest.  Not having any idea of what to do with Emily, Dr. Banks decides to pay a visit to Dr. Siebert.

When he comes out to suburban Connecticutt to see Dr. Siebert, he finds a confident, enterprising psychiatrist who's actually something of an "industry promoter" of various anti-depressant drugs.  He tells her of his problems with finding an antidepressant which could lift Emily out of her depression, noting that "all the regular anti-depressants out there don't seem to work."  Dr. Siebert then suggests "well, maybe something new then" and drops the name Ablixa (obviously fictional) which is to have been relatively new anti-depressant drug on the market that she's been marketing and even looks in her purse to see if she has any samples (she does not).  Not particularly impressed with Dr. Siebert who seemed to him to be a rather irritating "mercenary for the pharmaceuticals," he nevertheless suggests Ablixa to Emily the next time they meet and prescribes it to her when she consents.

Boy does Ablixa seem to work!  The next scene has Emily full frontal naked ... (Parents take note...) jumping up and down all over Martin in bed a short time (a few days/few weeks?) after starting to take the drug.  After they finish, Martin, the former trader (and still trying to get back into the business) tells Emily, "whoever makes this drug is going to make a fortune!"  HOWEVER, Martin soon finds that there are some rather disconcerting "side-effects" to the drug as well -- Emily starts "sleepwalking."  Frightened by this, we see Martin with Emily at Dr. Banks' office relating to the good doctor Emily's recent sleepwalking episodes and Dr. Banks suggesting that perhaps Emily try something else.  But Emily is adamant.  After months or perhaps years of walking in a persistent "fog," Ablixa seems to work!  So Dr. Banks keeps Emily on Ablixa for the time-being, perhaps figuring that she was coming in for appointments several times a week anyway.  So what could go wrong...?

Well, Emily's sleepwalking incidents don't stop.  And one evening Martin comes home, perhaps somewhat late.  He finds her "preparing dinner" (strangely "for three") in her sleepwalking state.  He asks her what's going on?  She turns around and stabs him several times in his abdomen with her kitchen knife, then as he tries to flee, once more in the back.  She then goes back to bed ... Sometime later she finds her husband dead on the floor with the knife in his back.  She calls 911.  The police respond.  They find her husband dead on the floor and her hysterical.  They take her in for questioning and eventually arrest her for her husband's murder (her prints were all over the knife).  What now?

Well, Dr. Banks comes to her defense.  He knew of her sleep-walking episodes after her beginning to take Ablixa and it seemed clear enough to him what happened: She may have killed her husband but she had no consciousness of what happened (hence had no criminal intent).  The courts accept the explanation and she is found "Not Guilty on account of (temporary) insanity," and is remanded then to a state psychiatric facility for at least some time with Dr. Banks remaining her court appointed doctor.  Dr. Banks was confident, in fact, that after (obviously) getting her off the Ablixa and establishing that she was not otherwise insane she could be released from the state hospital after some time.

All this would have worked-out well, except, of course, Dr. Banks himself starts to feel repercussions from the incident.  He had, after all, prescribed the Ablixa to Emily and kept her on it even after she exhibited symptoms (sleepwalking) that were potentially dangerous to her/others.  Would you want to be treated by someone who was at least partly responsible for a terrible tragedy like this, especially after both he and Ablixa made inevitable headlines in the News?  So his patient list inevitably takes a deep hit.  His partners in his practice also come to want him out their office because their association with him was hurting their credibility as well.  Finally, a pharmaceutical company with which he had received a contract to help them study another anti-depressant drug (and he was going to receive $50,000 for this work for them) terminates its contracted with him.  He and his wife Diedre (played by Vinessa Shaw) had just bought a new rather expensive home or condo somewhere in Manhattan ...

In trying to defend his own practice/reputation, Dr. Banks finds to his surprise that it was Emily's former psychiatrist Dr. Seibert who had written the clinical article warning about Ablixa's causing "sleepwalking" in some patients.  Yet, it was she who had recommended Ablixa to him in the first place... Why would she have done that?  The rest of the film unspools from there ... :-)

The film therefore plays on a number of contemporary phenomena -- (1) an addiction to the high flying "Wall Street"/"Professional living on Manhattan" lifestyle by those who've experienced it, (2) the betrayal/pain caused to loved-ones by those caught in "white collar crimes" and (3) the proliferation of all kinds of anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, etc psychiatric drugs many with various "side effects" but still prescribed (or even demanded by patients) because these drugs do actually help many people even as the risks of these treatments are often minimized -- which all combined make this a very sleek if scary "noirish" tale.

A note to Parents/Adults.  This film is definitely R-rated (for the nudity and generally adult themes) and is definitely not for the squeamish.  There is the blood from the murder of Emily's husband described above.  There's also the very convincing indeed stunning performance by Rooney Mara as the simultaneously arguably sympathetic yet clearly troubled young woman, Emily (talk about a classic but also contemporary femme fatale).  The film makes for a great thriller, but it can turn one's stomach inside out.  So honestly, as good as the film is for young adults and above, it is certainly not a film for the kids.

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