Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Side Effects 2013

Whether Steven Soderbergh is actually retiring or whether this is a publicity stunt that has been going on for some time, Side Effects is the best film he has directed in a while. I say this probably because I had little respect for Magic Mike (2012) and Haywire (2011) and a number of films that came before those. To be honest, the last time a Soderbergh-directed film really impressed me was 12 years ago...and it was Ocean's Eleven!

Side Effects opens with what looks like a crime scene, with blood smears in the hallway of an apartment in a tall building, and no body in sight. It then immediately jumps back in time to introduce us to Emily (Rooney Mara) and her husband Martin (Channing Tatum). He has been serving time for a hedge fund fraud, and just as he is released back into society, we see Emily losing her grip on sanity. Due to fears that she may resort to self-harm, she is advised to see a psychiatrist, Dr Banks (Jude Law), who promptly prescribes her with a series of anti-depressants, and after consulting with fellow psychiatrist, Dr Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he finally settles on Ablixa as the best mode of treatment. This leads to some catastrophic results - which then pave the way for the rest of the story.

What initially seems to be a social commentary on the pharmaceutical industry, false advertising and the issues with mental health treatment, soon turns into a psychological drama, dissolving into a mystery and finally becoming a complicated suspense thriller. The less said about the plot, the better - as there is a Hitchcockian feel to the way the twists and turns come about (even though some of them are very obvious), and there is a real old school mystery in the backbone of the film.

Rooney Mara is excellent - at once, helpless and dangerous, a victim and a perpetrator. Jude Law, himself, has done a great job of playing the kind but distracted doctor. Catherine Zeta-Jones overacts ever so slightly, as she usually does. And Channing Tatum is such a strange choice to play a polished member of the financial services industry that I am left wondering why Soderbergh picked him, of all people, to play this character.

There are a number of holes in the script that will be jarring on repeat viewings, but having seen the film only once, I noticed and promptly forgot these - because the film is paced extremely well. The editing is sharp and the audience never loses interest in what may happen next, how ever disconnected some scenes may be. The unique style of cinematography, which is Soderbergh's trademark, is getting a bit old and for this film it was a bit of a mismatch, but again, because of the flow of the story, and the level of performances by Mara and Law, all else seemed less important.

This is not a flawless film, by any standards, but it is thoroughly thrilling and very entertaining. The suspense doesn't lose its edge - and so, without reading anything further into the motivations of the characters, I just enjoyed the ride.

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