Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum
Runtime: 106 minutes
Views: 1st Viewing
Coming hot off 2012’s incredibly underrated and hugely misinterpreted by the vast majority of its target audience, Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh seemed like he was on top of the world, which is just when the news of his imminent retirement came. Side Effects and HBO’s TV film Behind the Candelabra were set to be his last directorial films ever. The prospect of a film like Side Effects being Soderbergh’s last seemed exciting to some, and like a missed opportunity to others. The good news here is that Soderbergh knocked this one out of the park in every aspect. Side Effects is about a young woman called Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) who is clinically depressed after her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) returns home from prison for insider trading. Emily has several suicide attempts and emotional episodes before her psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) prescribes her a new drug called Ablixa. Emily responds to the new drug and her psychological state seems to improve tenfold, until the side effects of the drug are discovered. Ablixa puts Emily into a sleepwalking state on various occasions, one of which ends with the death of her husband. Doctor Banks decides to investigate the case further, putting both his career and his family on the line, and eventually stumbles upon answers nobody expects to rise to the surface.
Viewing Side Effects for the first-time ever was like an emotional roller-coaster in every way. The film is one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had watching a film in a very, very long time, and it’s boosted by an incredible script by screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who also wrote Soderbergh’s Contagion and The Informant! Burns’ script explores ideas like North America’s dependency on prescription drugs, delves into the world of psychology, and explores a heavy issue in clinical depression. The screenplay tackles these themes and topics with the utmost maturity and respect, never exploiting these important aspects of the script. Soderbergh’s last theatrical film is beautiful in its cinematography and intricate camera movements, both of which are handled by the director himself. The film is both gritty and glossy in a way that few visionary directors can make work.
The acting in Side Effects is where the film goes above and beyond its strong screenplay and expert direction, featuring great performances from the entire principal cast. Jude Law has not been this good in a film in years, vastly improving upon his weak performance in Soderbergh’s Contagion. Rooney Mara shows why she is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future, giving a great performance as Emily Taylor, balancing clinical depression with everyday housewife. If Mara’s career continues on this path, the Academy Award nominated actress is going to have a very bright future ahead of her. Both Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones have shown that they are legitimate actors in the past, and both shine in what little screen-time they are given in Side Effects. Tatum is believable as the former inside trader, and Zeta-Jones as a devious doctor. Not only was it was a delight to see the principal cast of the film work their magic, but it was great to see the very talented Ann Dowd (of last years Compliance) in the film, as Martin’s mother.
In the future when fans look back on the career of Steven Soderbergh, Side Effects is going to be looked at as one of the director’s greatest moments. It combines everything Soderbergh was good at: suspense, incredibly taut direction, excellent casting choices, and incredible cinematography all in one great crime thriller. Side Effects is the best film of 2013 thus far. 9.5/10.