Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns (Screenplay)
Starring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Runtime: 106 minutes
After a botched suicide attempt a young woman, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), is admitted into the care of psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) . He prescribes an antidepressant called Ablixa after learning of her history involving her husband landing in prison for insider trading. Once on this medication things start to get very complicated for the doctor and Miss Taylor. A horrific crime is committed believed linked to the medication’s side effects.
Scott Z. Burns wrote the play-like mystery that has less to do with pharmaceuticals than the advertisements let on. Without any spoilers Side Effects is a Hitchcockian thriller mixed into a courtroom drama. At first the story focuses on the young Emily Taylor but shifts attention to Dr. Banks in the second act becoming a detective story. As we watch certain pieces of the puzzle are discretely revealed. Quoted from William Styron’s Darkness Visible Emily describes her depression during a session, “Like some poisonous fog bank roll in upon my mind” which then initiates Banks’ own personal investigation. This film depends on the audience listening intently to the dialogue rather than wander in the cinematography. It is an intelligent movie that manipulates us through character and plot development with its intricate information and emotions trauma. Look out for the double-crossings.
There are four central characters that make up this film; Rooney Mara as Emily Taylor, Jude Law as Jonathan Banks, Channing Tatum as Emily’s husband Martin, and Catherine Zeta-Jones portrays Emily’s previous shrink. The two leads, Law and Mara, are well cast offering up strong performances. My favorite scene involves Law giving Mara a truth serum thus delivering a melancholy Q & A. Ms. Mara excels at manipulation and is equal to Edward Norton’s split personality in Primal Fear. Jude Law started out his career as the leading man. Today an older Law is transforming into a very reliable character actor, unafraid to take on different type roles with less shine and perfection. In this film, he is at first scooped up in the mainstream opinion but soon entertains and develops a different consciousness and in-depth thought.
Zeta-Jones is a put-together authoritative voice with an ice cold, clinical outer layer. Tatum has worked twice previously with this director in Haywire and Magic Mike. His performance here is refreshing and interesting at the same time because he is mainly a device or a piece of the puzzle, not the lead.
Steven Soderbergh announced that Side Effects would be his last theatrical release before retirement, making this his swan song coming full circle from his entry at Sundance in 1989 with Sex, Lies, and Video Tape. It seems an odd, experimental, genre film with which to end his career. Often the screen feels claustrophobic employing medium to close up camera shots creating anxiety, discomfort and nervousness, all intended. Why go out with this smaller film instead of a sprawling epic like his 2008 film Che? Could it be he is leaving on his own terms?
Soderbergh is also his own Director of Photography and he films this piece in shallow focus on purpose. This is not a movie to see for its amazing, breathtaking cinematography; in fact it is difficult at times to watch. There is a reason for this kind of camera work, but it is not one of my favorite styles. There is a blue and sickly yellow colour palate leaving the shots feeling more like a shampoo commercial. He does allow the sun to enter into one scene during her initial trial on the medication. In fact, this feels a bit like a television commercial selling a wonder drug. Overall, Side Effects appears very similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound in that both these thrillers seem to have a hazy fog rolling over the camera lens while in soft focus.
Photo Credits: Entertainment One