Side Effects (2013)

10 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Side Effects,” director Steven Soderbergh’s final film (yeah, we’ll see about that), has so many twists and turns in its story and development that it’s hard not to think of one of the late Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers. It’s said that Hitchcock always loved to “play his audiences like a piano” with his films and here, it seems that Soderbergh wanted to do the same thing. To review a movie like this is difficult because I’m hesitant about giving away certain details of the story, even in the beginning. It’s like a movie that Hitchcock would have warned critics not to give away the beginning (“Psycho,” for example).

And I have to be honest—it worked for me. I didn’t watch a single trailer for “Side Effects” nor did I read any other reviews beforehand. (I only noticed the film’s poster, and I was to see either this or “Identity Thief” this weekend.)

“Side Effects” has twist upon twist upon twist, bringing a solid, gripping thriller from one of our best directors.

I have an obligation to at least say a little bit about the story. As the movie opens, we’re introduced to 28-year-old Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), who is waiting for her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) to be released from a four-year prison sentence (on what charge, I might have missed). As if in a trance, Emily drives her car into a parking garage wall and nearly kills herself. This begins a series of therapy sessions with Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes her a series of antidepressant medications (even though Banks is undoubtedly more interested in drug studies than properly helping his patients). The drugs work, as Emily begins to gain her normal life with Martin again. However, a certain side effect has Emily sleepwalking, and this leads to tragedy…

Period. That’s all I’m going to write about the plot for “Side Effects.” What the tragedy means, what it leads to, and everything that follows further deserves to be experienced. The less you know, the better. But this is a smart film that doesn’t go for the usual elements you’d expect from a modern thriller.

Rooney Mara, playing Emily, is given her first leading role since her Oscar-nominated turn in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” In the difficult role of a woman fighting depression and confusion, she’s great in this movie. Jude Law, as Dr. Banks, handles his role with great conviction—it’s his finest performance in quite a while. Channing Tatum is a reliable screen presence as Emily’s husband, and Vinessa Shaw is convincing as Banks’ wife who can’t quite handle her husband’s obsessiveness and anger after the aforementioned tragedy occurs (I still refuse to talk). Catherine Zeta-Jones portrays Emily’s previous therapist whom Banks visits for advice about Emily’s conditions, and unfortunately, she’s miscast here. She doesn’t do a terrible job, but she just seems too…obvious.

Not everything about “Side Effects” works. While you can follow the story fine, there are little details I wish were extended—that’s just my personal preference. And the certain twist that sets up the final act of the movie, while I never saw it coming, is a little too much for me to buy.

It’s been reported that “Side Effects” is Steven Soderbergh’s final theatrical feature. Apparently, Soderbergh has said that he wanted to try something new, with TV for example. Maybe he goes and comes back to film, or maybe he likes where his new career will lead him. But one can hope that “Side Effects” does not turn out to be his final film, because this is a director who clearly knows how to make movies and tell stories in a most unpredictable way. If the former is true, and this is his last film, “Side Effects” is a decent way to go. It’s a neat thriller made by a damn good director.

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