Hooray for alliteration! My high school english professors would be proud. In any case, I got to play catch-up yesterday before the Valentines day movie rush, and the only thing left to cross off my list was Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects. Sold as Steven Soderbergh’s last directorial effort (we’ll see if that holds true), Side Effect never really had that much else going for it. The cast was slight by Soderbergh’s standards, the marketing was vague and confusing, and it’s February release date didn’t suggest much confidence on the sudio’s end. The trailers specifically left me with absolutely no idea what the movie was about aside form a vague theme of the unintended consequences of psychotropic drugs. Now that I’ve seen the movie though, I completely understand what a challenge it was to market as any significant revelations about the plot would ruin some of the most important twists it takes. It’s a bit implausible and takes a little while to really find its voice, but great performances by Mara and Law combined with a twist-filled script that defies predictability make Side Effects a very respectable book-end for Soderbergh’s impressive career.
Note: MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW. If haven’t seen the film and plan on doing so, please skip to The Verdict at the bottom.
A young woman’s world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.
Without spoiling anything, I can at least tell you that this only sums up about the first half of the movie, so be prepared to get through a slow first half. The developments in the second half more than make up for it.
If I were to make a list of rising stars in Hollywood today, Rooney Mara would be near the top of that list. Between this and the fact that her performance in the american remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo somehow achieved the seemingly impossible task of standing alongside Noomi Rapace’s performance in the original, there is no doubt in my mind that Ms. Mara has a long, successful career ahead of her. In Side Effects, she does a great job of depicting the experiences of someone who is battling clinical depression. As someone who has locked horns with that particular challenge myself, I felt a very strong connection with her character that made the revelation of Emily’s true nature all the more surprising and effective. It’s difficult to go into anything without spoiling the movie futher, but I will at least say that the revelations about her character in the second half and the way Mara inhabits them are a huge reason why I was impressed with her performance.
I also really enjoyed Jude Law as Dr. Jonathan Banks, Emily’s psychiatrist. The movie really starts out with a major focus on Emily, but as more time goes on the focus switches more and more to Banks as he begins to realize that Emily is not the victim she appears to be. One of the most satisfying parts of the movie for me was to see his character make the transition from a naive pawn in Emily’s game to a strong player himself. The battle of wits and chess-like exchanges between him, Emily and Emily’s previous Psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones, who more than makes up with the embarrassment of her involvement in Broken City with a strong performance here).
Finally, Side Effects proves that the only movies Channing Tatum can make right now that people WON’T see are any projects he does with Soderbergh. After Haywire flopped last year, it’s amazing that the studio execs signed off on it at all. Financial implications aside, I really did like Tatum here. The charisma lined with arrogance his character has fits in with his status as someone who just got out of jail for insider trading. The fact that he’s at least likable and does seem to really care about Emily makes his fate even more hard to justify.
As this may well be the last time Soderbergh brings a film to the silver screen, it feels only fitting to touch on his direction here. As far as the tone of the film, the cinematography and sound editing really brought Soderbergh’s 2011 Epidem-Pic Contagion to mind. This lends itself to a very bleak feeling for the majority of the film, which might turn some off but I felt that it fir well with the theme of depression . In my opinion though, the most effective directorial choice that Soderbergh made was to film the movie from Emily’s point of view for the first half. We feel like we’re seeing things from her point of view, and develop a sort of assumed trust with her character that leads us to empathize with her circumstance. Once the movie starts to make us question the things we thought we had seen with our own eyes before, it really makes the central twist of the second half stick far more than it would have from any other point of view (i.e. if they had told the entire thing from Dr. Banks’ point of view.
The Verdict: 7.5/10 Superior
+ Great performances by Mara and Law (no Oscar love will come to either though)
+ Strong Direction that makes the central twist very effective
+ Great set of character dynamics & One-upsmanship between Mara, Law and Zeta-Jones
- Bit of a slow first half, and some parts of the second feel a bit implausible
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fast Film Reviews: 4/5
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 8.0/10
The Code is Zeek: 3.5/5
A Constant Visual Feast: “Solid… Not the grand finale [Soderbergh] deserved”
Black Sheep Reviews: 2/5