Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Side Effects (2013) - Movie Review

You're going to want to make sure you're sufficiently caffeinated before seeing Side Effects.

That's not to say that Side Effects will make you sleepy, but while it does have a slow build up, if you aren't paying attention, especially in the second half, you might find yourself a little lost.  There are so many twists and layers to Side Effects you may need another viewing to capture them all.  In fact, I just watched a clip of the film again that has a totally different subtext to it now that I've seen the whole film.

Emily (Rooney Mara) has been anxiously awaiting the release of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum), who's been in prison several years for insider trading.  One thing I appreciated right away was that it didn't go into too many details about what Martin did or setting him up as good or bad.  He did what he did, and now he's just interested in getting back to his life and working again.  Bogging the plot down with a bunch of financial mumbo-jumbo probably wouldn't have been the best way to start your film.

It turns out that Emily has been a long sufferer of depression, and with all the stress of her husband's release and concern about their financial future, it triggers again and she attempts to kill herself.  She sees a psychiatrist, Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who in the process of helping her prescribes a series of anti-depressants, but none seem to work.  In fact, most of them make her feel worse.  After seeing Emily's original psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones), she suggests he prescribes a newer, experimental drug.  This is the drug that finally works for Emily, but there's a side effect, she begins to have bizarre sleepwalking episodes.  Something happens, and I won't spoil it, but it is setup by the opening scene of the film.

I was thinking about why the opening telegraphs such a big event in the film, but then I thought without that opening, would you have kept watching?  Normally, I'd be upset at the spoiler, but I think it worked here.  Otherwise, you'd just be watching kind of a drab, but well acted, story about a couple dealing with depression.  Even knowing that something's on the way, it still catches you by surprise and there was a collective gasp from the audience.

Due to the publicity surrounding these events, Jonathan's life is in turmoil and many aren't convinced he prescribed the right treatment to Emily.  Even he has his doubts, so he does his own investigation and what he finds leads him down a completely different path.  That's part of the fun of Side Effects.  It beautifully sets up many things, and has you going in one direction, but then smacks you in the face from another.  There were a few times where I thought the movie was going to play out much differently, only be surprised by what happened next.  It isn't too twisty for its own good though, or gets confusing.  The twists play out very linearly, as opposed to stuff you see in the Ocean's films where it jumps around a little.  However, lose focus for a scene or two, or pick the wrong time to go to the bathroom, and you can miss something pretty vital to how it concludes. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns seems to have a knack for writing smart, complex stories, as shown in his previous Steven Soderbergh collaborations, Contagion and The Informant!  Side Effects is his best work yet.

It's not just the writing that's smart either, Soderbergh's way of setting up scenes through use of music or the way a scene is framed it what really makes this stand out from just being a standard thriller.  These small details are why multiple viewings may be necessary.

What is it about Steven Soderbergh and how he manages to release great films at typically slow times of the year?  Maybe that's been part of his strategy to make his films look even better by comparison (I'm kidding).  The timing of the release is a double edged sword, as it's finally the first really good film of 2013, but was it released too early in the year to still get any Oscar consideration?  If this has been released in December, I can imagine there'd be a huge amount of buzz around it. There's also lots of talk going around that this may be Soderbergh's last theatrical film, while others are saying he may just be taking a sabbatical.   If this is really Steven Soderbergh's last film, all I can say is that at least he's going out on a high note. As I fan, I have to plead with Mr. Soderbergh to please not retire.  He's been one of the most consistently good directors in the past 25 years, tackling many different genres and almost never disappointing.  Hell, he was the reason I actually wasn't dreading watching Magic Mike, and I ended up enjoying that film.

Speaking of Channing Tatum, Soderbergh seems to always get the most out of his actors, and Tatum wasn't bad again.  It's a smaller role, so he's not asked to do much, and I even noticed he seems to have cut back on his 'twang' a bit.  Catherine Zeta-Jones is also fine in her role, but Side Effects was really a two-man game between Jude Law and Rooney Mara.  I had once written off Jude Law as just another generic, pretty-boy from the UK, but he really has evolved into an good character actor, and this may be his finest performance to date.  You genuinely root for his character, and that's a credit to Law's performance. Rooney Mara in her short career has proven to be a bright actress with a brighter future.  As much as I liked her in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I think she was even better here.  There's more nuance to her performance, but I can't say too much about it without spoiling her character arc.

It's only February, but Side Effects is easily the best film of 2013 so far.  Smart, complex, thrilling and carried by two great performances.  It may not be Steven Soderbergh's best film, but it's still a very good one, and I really hope it's not his last.  I highly recommend seeing this as soon as you can, but again, you might want to down some caffeine beforehand.

4 (out of 5) Death Stars

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