SIDE EFFECTS is a tough movie to review, because any description of the movie that's of any value tends to be a spoiler. Heck, that sentence alone is a bit of a spoiler. So I'll apologize in advance if I appear to give less information than I should about the film. I'm assuming you haven't heard too much about it, and might enjoy discovering the film on its own.
Director Steven Soderbergh has made a slow-burning movie here. It never really moves at a fast pace, but it maintains a pretty high level of intensity throughout. It is a film that deals pretty directly with how Americans are perhaps a very over-medicated society, particularly when it comes to anti-depressants. And how we don't always know about all the "side effects" (hence the name of the film). But to his credit, he's pretty non-preachy about it. Some of the things people do in this film while under these drugs are pretty scary...but it's all presented in a non-alarmist way. It acknowledges that these drugs have a place in our society as well.
There are four star performances here. Least successful is Catherine Zeta-Jones as a psychiatrist who may have some nefarious motives. Her part is a bit unrealistic and feels more like a caricature. Channing Tatum is more successful as a Wall Street trader just getting out of prison for some insider trading, and looking to readjust to life on the outside and to find his new place in the world. Tatum doesn't LOOK like a typical "wall street tycoon" that one might see in film (he's no Michael Douglas or even Charlie Sheen)...but he brings nice touches to the domestic side of his life in his scenes with Rooney Mara, who plays his deeply troubled wife. This is Mara's film to win or lose, and she does a nice job. The temptation in a role like hers would be overact...but Soderbergh is interested in having his team UNDERPLAY things. He's got a compelling story to tell and there's plenty of suspense to be had. But he's playing it more like a `70s political thriller than a `00s potboiler...and the film is all the more admirable for that. And Mara gets her tone just right.
As does Jude Law as her psychiatrist. He's every bit her equal, and he gives us a nuanced character that we root for and root against at varying turns. He can be either genuinely ingratiating or repulsive. Law has always been a terrific actor, but never QUITE made it to real stardom. It would appear as he moves into the "middle age" of his career, he's going to give some really solid character turns (his recent work in ANNA KARININA is another example...he stole that film). Yes, he's fun in the new SHERLOCK HOLMES franchise...but a lot of actors could have played that part. But when he's called upon to give a real, rounded performance, he delivers the goods.
Some may find the pacing of SIDE EFFECTS to be just a little too deliberate. As I implied, it is a slow-burning affair. But it has genuine excitement and surprise, a mostly intelligent script (the Zeta-Jones character being the exception), very competent direction and some very nice performances. It's certainly for an adult audience with a decent attention span. But if offers many rewards and is very much recommended.