Side Effects is a story about a depressed woman who is prescribed a new anti-depressant to help her cope with the return of her insider-trading husband from prison. The side effects of these drugs seem to make her do unusual things in her sleep. What starts off as a medical drama about medical trials soon turns into a criminal and courtroom drama and thriller.
The changes in genre are not subtle and probably could have done with a bit more blurring between the different strands. As it is, the changes are a little too clean cut. None of the story lines is quite given time to get going before switching to a new one and since none of the stories except the last one is allowed to reach a conclusion the intended shock of the twist never comes off.
Jude Law is interesting as the British psychiatrist who has come to America to escape what he considers the backwards attitude the UK has of mental illness. His character is believably flawed and earnest in his desire to help Rooney Mara overcome her depression. When it appears that she has killed her husband under the influence of the drugs he prescribed, he is equally earnest in helping her build an insanity defence. Finally when he becomes suspicious of the true motivations behind events and his world starts to fall apart he becomes doggedly obsessed with finding out the truth.
Rooney Mara plays the part of a confused depressed woman well. She drifts around scenes vacantly appearing as if she is somewhere completely other than the environment we can see her in. As the film progresses, we start to see a more devious and scheming side come through the facade.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is disappointing and unconvincing as another psychiatrist who has treated Rooney in the past and is hiding secrets of her own as well. The addition of a lesbian relationship which appears to be tacked on more for titillation than anything else falls flat as both actresses appear awkward and wooden during their few scenes together.
Overall an interesting if unoriginal idea which suffers from poor execution.