Among more important things, Side Effects is a first-rate mystery of the classic school in which all the clues are out in sight and the solution links everything together into a single coherent story. The story is usually not particularly credible, because crime is more banal than the mystery story form likes to suggest; but it does fit together into a logical pattern with no loose ends. This is a very rare situation these days, on film, and congratulations for it.
Side Effects also includes a lot of commentary on the pharmaceutical trade, as first Catherine Zeta-Jones and then Jude Law then I don’t know who all try to control Rooney Mara, whom you recall from the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, with varying results and, we begin to suspect, for varying reasons. Mara has to spend an inconvenient amount of time sort of half spaced out, but Entertainment Weekly describes her as “perfect as the story’s unknowable woman,” and it’s impressive what she can do with her eyes. More than most movies about business, not to mention mystery movies, Side Effects covers a lot of issues regarding business, in this case the business of prescription drugs: are they cures or just downers? Are they intended to cure or only to sell at a profit? Do the big companies cover up unfortunate side effects? Is the government a paid accomplice in over-the-counter-drug-sales? All of these things are worked into the plot, not just talked about; the story is centrally about these issues.
Side Effects is of the school of All the President’s Men that JFK wanted to be in, and it’s a credit to the American movie at a time when the American movie needs help.