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Film Review: Side Effects

Side Effects – A wonderful deconstructed detective story with captivating performances and an intelligent core –

Side Effects
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriter: Scott Z. Burns
Cinematographer: Peter Andrew
Cast: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum
Running Time: 106 Min.

In continuing what seems to be his annual-release model, Steven Soderbergh follows up 2012’s Haywire with a much more refreshing and darkly-twisted thriller feature  –  perhaps one of his best – Side Effects in which  Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) plays your average city-living girl who, after 4 years of waiting of her husband  to be released from prison, has developed depression. Upon Martin’s release for insider trading, Emily decides its time to get healthy for the sake of the marriage and seeks out help in a well recommended psychiatrist  Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Of course because we live in our present time, a pill is prescribed (Abixia) to help combat the chemical imbalance in Mrs. Taylor. While most of the effects are generally good, try as she might, Emily’s behavior grows more erratic with various subconscious attempts at suicide and hallucinations until the unthinkable happens and Martin ends up murdered on the floor of the couple’s home. To say that Emily is the killer is not a spoiler – its a main plot point. Emily denies the entire affair happening because she sleepwalks while on Abixia but the proceeding story is certainly far from wrote. Trust us, sharing too much information about Side Effects, opening this weekend, can spoil the entire tale.

sideeffectsSoderbergh’s thirty-fifth feature is written with sharp and quick exchanges by Scott Z. Burns along with Soderbergh’s direction and pulls a refreshing early twist to what could quickly become fodder.  As a third project together, this team has worked on The Informant and Contagion (making the combination of all three films a possible “unofficial” trilogy of  disconnect & paranoia) leading SE’s audience to expect a few items out of the gate – script writing and camera work at top levels, of which both pay off.

Screenwriter Burns, under the guiding hand of Forensic Psychologist Sasah Bardey, shows the real-life questions which doctors are faced with each time they see a patient – treatment options, possible mistakes and what happens if something does go wrong. And while all of the topics raised in the film are not fully engaged on or are left open-ended, the story is still full of trickery and surprise, crafted to give nice character insights for revealing character flaws in each scene. If anything SE makes use of the Big Pharma backdrop to delivery a character story. Unfortunately, the story does give way to the third act by incorporating thoughtful moments that are given up too easily.

Under his “Digital” Moniker – Peter Andrew – Soderbergh has pulled imagery from such thrillers as Repulsionand Rosemary’s Baby on camera while also placing a sense of fear and intimacy within the storyline of the married couple. In the opening prologue alone the camera is playing Hitchcock, ala Psycho to an ever-increasing slow-push through one window of hundreds – we soon find its to get a sneak peak at the interior family life of one apartment –  struck with murder. The camera is used in an intensely-intimate object by taking full advtange of many low angels.

Thomas Newman’s score adds the best touch of all by bringing Side Effects up to a level that completes the project. A whirling spiral of emotion and power are heard, but just under the surface – constantly beconing the audience, just like our main characters’ thoughts.

The overall film bends pre-conceived notions of atypical similar genre flicks and re-calculates them into an enjoyable production. A steady pace helps to allow for minor plot points and a deep narrative through the entire picture.  The film is a psychological thriller that thrills by making audiences question the sanity of nearly every character, even the psychologists, and ultimately themselves.

3Rooney Mara succeeds  in stepping out of her Girl With a Dragon Tattoo spotlight to give us a performance that displays a range of emotions which includes sweet and silent to dark, on a dime. Though the performance seems pulled at times, its nice to see Mara be given the chance to stretch and take the lead with a lovely and effective role.  Jude Law as the  compassionate Dr. Banks delivers one of his best performances in years that is equal parts charmingly-devious and utterly naive – Law’s Banks is a character you root for from beginning to end as you witness his spiral of self-realization and perpetual on-coming insanity. Zeta-Jones as Emily’s previously deft psychiatrist proves she’s got brains and she not afraid to them.

While the film may have benefitted far greater with Soderbergh sticking with a Social piece on the drug industry – the end result is a wonderful deconstructed detective story with captivating performances and an intelligent core. The strength of of this film is its ability to give an audience some engrossing characters, visually appealing camera work and material that never goes for the easy road – Soderbergh manages to hit a triple to bring them all in with Side Effects. If the Director’s comments are to be believed and Side Effects is going to be his final theatrical release, this one brings together threads from a lot of his work to give perhaps, one final well rounded career.

Fresh Roasted Rating: A

– Matt Miles, Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

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