Published on July 23rd, 2013 | by Allan Brown0
Side Effects Review
Movie Review: Side Effects (2013)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns (screenplay)
Cast: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Plot: When Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a young woman suffering from depression is prescribed the new drug Ablixa by her psychiatrist Dr Banks (Jude Law). Her world begins to unravel resulting in some unexpected side effects and consequences.
Side Effects falls into the same category of films such as The Sixth Sense, The Village, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, The Empire Strikes Back and The Usual Suspects, in the fact that their real strength is in the dramatic plot twist in their third act. In today’s market, the world of information is at our fingertips. This makes movies that are so heavily reliant on audience and media discretion a brave and sometimes unreliable directorial choice. It would take the average Joe less than a second to look up the entire plot of any given movie and just like that, the impact the director had intended, after years of writing and production work is gone in an instant. With that said this makes Side Effects one tricky film to review and therefore I tread carefully.
Steven Soderbergh has enjoyed surprising us with his film choices through the years. His refusal to conform and continuation to take risks is one of the reasons he remains one of the most diverse filmmaker’s of today. He has delighted audiences with his smaller independent and highly experimental projects such as Solaris, all the way to his stylish and intelligent thrillers like Traffic. Even his less ambitious production line blockbusters of Hollywood, like the Oceans series show a slick style and skill that is unmatched. So with that said isn’t it odd that a director/producer who can make their own artistic choices in the face of the all mighty studio system is now considering retirement? It is sad, but true Side Effects will be Steven Soderbergh final farewell to the film industry.
Side Effects begins with introducing us to Emily, played by the ever impressive Rooney Mara, (American version of The Girl with the Dragon tattoo) who suffers from a crippling depression. When her white collar husband Martin (Channing Tatum), returns home from serving a four-year prison sentence there is hope this may be the key to end Emily’s recession into what she calls her “Poisonous fog”. When it becomes apparent that Emily’s condition is in-fact worsening her newly appointed psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks, (Jude Law) who is desperate to lift the gloom choking her life prescribes the new experimental drug Ablixa . Dr Banks remains convinced that the Ablixa drugs unpredictable side effects are worth the risk if there’s a chance of a breakthrough.
For at least the first two thirds of film, the plot could not appear more transparent. The material we are fed is more than compelling enough to convince us the Emily’s struggles are the main focus of the film. However, Side Effects has a lot more on its mind than it initially leads you to believe….
Scott Z Burns’ screenplay coupled with Soderbergh skilful direction ingeniously manages to smuggle a second, altogether more devious story past you while appearing on the surface as straightforward narrative. We give ourselves over from the opening introduction and not until deep into the story do we realize the degree to which he has been toying with us. Lots of stories can surprise you with a twist, but few can deceive you as to the very nature of the story being told.
Dealing with the themes of mental illness, paranoia, justice and America’s medication culture the film asks questions of ethics and morality engaging the audience into which shades of grey they will side with. Soderbergh also on board as cinematographer uses theses themes as a palate for the look and feel of the film. Shot within tight offices spaces and even tighter apartments, he relies on white and grey tones and colour saturation to harnesses the seemingly emotionless state of young Emily’s mind. She describes her condition as having a “poisonous fog bank rolling into my mind”, and the highly clinical and bleak look of the film creates a visual link to our lead character reflecting how removed she appears to be of feeling and consciousness.
Rooney Mara confirms the promise shown in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with a performance of considerable range. Jude Law also shines in his utterly convincing role as psychiatrist Dr Banks. However I did find Catherine Zeta-Jones’s performance at times wooden and her character inexcusably one dimensional and contrived. That said the film is well plotted and performed, always intriguing, and benefits from interesting and unsettling soundtrack.
Summary: What starts as a fairly dull, anti-pharmaceutical message, eventually turns into one of the best takes on the Neo-Noir style I have seen. Soderbergh manages to draw stunning performances, incredibly skillful direction and an unorthodox plot that is executed within an inch of its life. Side Effects might not end up in your Top 10 list of all time, but it is a film that will raise plenty discussion and debate long after you leave the cinema, and that to me is testament of a great movie.