Steven Soderbergh's fourth movie -- "Side Effects" (2013) -- released in the past one and a half year seems to be another distinct kind of cinematic pleasure. Soderbergh -- who's indicated that he's tired of film-making and may retire (he is currently doing a movie with Matt Damon)-- has had an usual career. He has made various narrative experiments and benighted projects ("Schizopolis", "The Good German", "The Girlfriend Experience", "Solaris") that were sometimes more involving for him to make than for the audiences to experience. His new film "Side Effects" doesn't belong to that category, it goes with his success list (like "Out of Sight", "Ocean's Eleven", "Traffic", "The Limey").
Looking at the trailer and title, the film looked like antidepressants gone haywire kind of story. I thought it might expose the savage nature of our pill-popping, Pharmaceutical Nation culture. But, that's just a backdrop for this twisty adult thriller. "Side Effects" has got a delectably complex plot, which might work better on you if experienced in an information blackout. The term "Psychological Thriller" -- associated with this movie -- is more in the vein of Hitchcock rather than Polanski.
The film starts by introducing us 28 year old Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara). She is skeletal, vacant-eyed and applies lip-stick before visiting her husband. Emily is a devoted wife and she is eagerly awaiting for the release of her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum) from prison. Martin was a convicted insider trader, serving a four year sentence. Once Martin is back from the prison sentence, Emily finds herself suffering from a suicidal depression. Emily works as a graphic designer and one day after work rams her car into a parking garage wall.
The suicide attempt brings her to the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a shrink who appends his income from his upscale midtown private practice with hospital work and pharmaceutical consulting. Banks cares about his patients, going so far as to make a visit to Emily’s former therapist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Siebert recommends a drug Ablixa for Emily. Emily's boss offers Cilexa, whereas the wife of Martin's friend swears by Effexor. Finally, Banks goes for Ablixa and Emily finds some relief, but the pill has one highly undesirable side effect: Sleep-walking and sometimes sleep-snacking. It's best to end the plot summary here, keeping in mind, the twitchy nature of the film.
Although "Side Effects" is a twisty thriller, the plot elements have avoided some extreme or overtly sensationalistic themes. The doctor-patient relationship follows the real world rules. There's no attempt to bring in a sexual relationship between Jonathan and Emily, because that's how things seemingly go in many Hollywood movies. The screenplay by Scott Z. Burns has traversed through many sub-genres: a medical melodrama, mordant expose of the pharmaceutical industry, a courtroom procedural and also an Hitchcockian thriller. The atmospheric lines like, "Imagine if everything you ever wanted turned up and called itself your life" are of the highest quality.
Director Steven Soderbergh deserves full credit for making us to go along for the ride. He didn't just stop at directing but also edited the film and done the camerawork (under pseudonyms). Like his previous ventures, "Contagion" and "Magic Mike" (about flesh trade), he once again points out, but never in a instructive manner, just how broken our systems have become, whether medical, governmental, or economic. Soderbergh has expertly shot depending on the locations: emergency rooms and massive psychiatric center re imbued with sickly greens and grays, while the posh Manhattan spots are percolated through flattening golds and amber.
Rooney Mara, as Emily, displays equal parts of feral intensity and heavy mystery. She seems at vulnerable as well as emotionally remote -- a character that served her well both as Mark Zuckerberg’s ex in "The Social Network" and as the hacker-punk heroine of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Channing Tatum has grown as a performer over the years (his third movie with Soderbergh). Jude Law thrives here as Dr. Banks and is perfectly capable of handling the ambiguities of his role. Catherine-Zeta Jones performed well as the cold, austere therapist.
"Side Effects" is not Soderbergh's best, but it never loses one moment of your attention. It makes no grand statements or summations but is effortlessly artful and entertaining.
Side Effects -- IMDb