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I read an article that said that, with Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh
wanted to return to the old suspense classics like Jagged Edge and much
of Hitchcock, psychological twisters that aren't made much anymore.
I suspect that's because today people expect vampires, car chases or buckets of blood to justify the price of a ticket. Well, I too remember those old classics and I loved them. Side Effects is a worthy addition but be warned that it's a thinking person's movie not a chainsaw caper.
I'm surprised that so many people mention the twists and turns. Yes, there are some but not that many and they're what makes it all so fascinating. You think you know what's happening -- but you don't! What I especially enjoyed was the gamesmanship the different characters displayed. It's like a chess match with three people and more to kibitz.
And yet as we travel through the story, the surprising bits do make sense and we wonder why we didn't think of those things before. We're deep into the heart of mental illness and psychopathology. Almost every character has secrets or hidden motives they would not like to see the light of day. Although the main character seems at first to be the troubled young wife, it becomes clear that it is Jude Law's character as the shrink who is struggling to find the truth and do the right thing.
Just when you think everything that can go wrong for him has, the tide begins to turn and it's Oh My Gosh. Just like a Hitchcock film, you have a guy to root for and wonder how he will ever work his way though. I expected a different -- more startling -- ending, but there is the promise (perhaps?) of more horror to come.
Yes, let's definitely have a sequel! Okay, Stephen?
In "Side Effects", Emily (Rooney Mara) is feeling hopeless, suffering
from prolonged effects of abandonment issues, unsure how to proceed in
her life. Her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum) has just come home from
prison, serving time for insider trading. But Emily doesn't know what
she should be feeling; Emily doesn't know how to feel what she should
be feeling. Psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) is exactly what
the doctor ordered.
For those of us who watched "Contagion" (2011) and wanted to focus only on Jude Law's morally ambiguous blogger, Alan Krumwiede, we have finally gotten our wish. Law's morally ambiguous Dr. Jon Banks and Mara's psychologically ambiguous Emily are the only two main characters. There is only one story to follow.
It starts off with some strange camera angles (Steven Soderbergh serving as his own director of photography as he has for the majority of his films) but then settles down as a thriller, or what will become a thriller once we get to know the characters better. Emily has tried many antidepressants in the past but most leave her with undesired side effects: nausea, dizziness, or lack of a sex drive. Won't Dr. Banks please prescribe her something different? Sure, how about Ablixa, the new medication which Dr. Banks is being paid to try out on patients.
And although we now think we know in which character evil lies, we do not. Dr. Jonathan Banks is singularly the most complicated, interestingly created character in recent times. He's modern, selfish, compassionate, professionally-oriented, family-oriented, has respect for the legal system, and will go to extremes to distinguish between right and wrong. He's the focus of this character-centric, film noir thriller which uses Mara's Emily as the vehicle for the plot.
A crime is committed. It's bad, really bad. But the question is not who did it, the question is, who is guilty? In answering that question the film weaves from deception through twist to deception, never ceasing our questions of what is morally right, what is morally wrong and who is guilty? The screenplay is incredibly well-written, creating characters that amaze us, disappoint us and deceive us all the while being a part of an interesting and complex story. The dialogue fits with that theme, using words like "hopeless" to tie multiple characters together - conceptually not physically.
It's more of an edge-of-your-mind thriller rather than an edge-of-your- seat thriller. Never really scared, always questioning the moral and psychological behaviour of these characters. The ending takes some strange, sexually-charged turns, and perhaps a bit more conclusive than I was originally expecting, but don't worry, you can still question where the line is between right and wrong and when each character crossed it.
In our pharmaceutically inclined society, side effects are ever-present
hazards of prescription drug usage. Whether they are minimized in
print, or spoken in a hushed tone at the close of television
commercials, side effects have become a shady companion of prescription
drugs. Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh's alleged final film, focuses on
the consequences visited upon a young couple after the side effects
from the wife's medication cause her to commit an alarming act. As the
chasm opens beneath this young woman, her psychiatrist struggles with
his responsibility for her predicament, and confront his lingering
suspicion about his patient's state of mind.
Ever the auteur, Soderbergh remains delightfully unpredictable with this latest feature. Side Effects initially presents itself as an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry, wearing its heavy-handed message on its sleeve, but promptly converts into a psychological suspense thriller. Soderbergh stares you directly in the eyes while he rips the rug from beneath your feet, sending you spiraling toward a conclusion that is equally unexpected and pleasing. Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, The Bourne Ultimatum) channel Hitchcock, creating an in-depth narrative that remains unpredictable until its final scene.
Soderbergh is known for generating a positive film environment for his cast, and maximizing the actors' potential in his films. Although the cast for Side Effects is comprised of actors who have previously provided impressive performances, each actor presents a character that rivals any prior roles. Rooney Mara plays the young woman at the epicenter of the conflict. Mara is extremely engrossing, creating an aura of discontent and depression within her situation. She acts as the film's catalyst, holding all the characters together while prompting them toward their conclusions. Attractive, graceful, and erratic, Mara is the wounded girl who isn't all that she seems.
While the film's driving force is Mara, Jude Law is its principle focus. As Mara's overwhelmed psychiatrist, Law provides his most empathetic role to date. Law establishes a flawed character who struggles with the consequences forced upon him, and transforms into a protagonist worthy of our admiration. Law and Mara provide such intriguing characterizations, Soderbergh seems to have difficulty deciding which to devote more time to. The scenes they share are the most arresting in this film.
There are few things more satisfying than a film which receives little attention, but creates an unexpectedly entertaining experience. Though Soderbergh has billed Side Effects as his swan song, he confirms that he is a cinematic mastermind in a film that would be an impressive conclusion to an eccentric career. Indulge in this unconventional thriller; you won't mind the side effects.
Side Effects is a psychological thriller centered around the
pharmaceutical industry. I won't say much more for fear of spoiling
anything, but let's just say an experimental drug prescription goes...
Steven Soderbergh crafts his suspense from the very first frame with a perfect start for the film. The plot then pulls us in and keeps us guessing as the mystery slowly unfolds. The cast meshes wonderfully. Jude Law delivers a strong lead as the frustrated psychiatrist and Rooney Mara is mysterious and unpredictable. My only complaint is the performances were not as dramatic as they could have been. Mara was excellent at portraying her character's cold and lifeless depression, but I have seen what she is really capable of (Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), and she could have definitely reached those heights with this type of character. Nonetheless, a fine set of performances all around, but they take a back seat to the intoxicating narrative.
So is Side Effects Soderbergh's last hurrah? I certainly hope not, as it's probably my favorite film of his. I do wish Soderbergh got more range out of Mara, but the result is a satisfying and expertly-woven psychological drama packed with twists and turns.
Steven Soderbergh's "Side Effects" begins with the camera zooming in
from the streets to an apartment window, and ends in the reverse manner
(no, I'm not spoiling anything). In a subtle way, Soderbergh's final
shot represents his "full circle". Will he really retire from
filmmaking for good? If so, then we will miss him. He is a truly
exceptional filmmaker - and "Side Effects" would be a worthy film to go
Indeed, "Side Effects" is a pure thriller, as it was marketed. While prescription medicine is the central plot device, the film also deals with psychology, law, insecurity, social stigma, corporate greed and obsession. Not explicitly for all of them, mind you, but subtly enough to get the point through, and not dawdling on it a second further. The taut, gripping, Hitchcockian screenplay by Scott Z. Burns gleefully twists and turns its way into unexpected plot developments, allowing Soderbergh to roam the apartments and streets with his camera, creating an intense yet unusually hypnotic atmosphere that is irresistibly gorgeous to watch.
Jude Law, looking more haggard here, is suitably desperate and obsessive as the "good?" doctor who seeks the truth pervasively after a horrific act committed by his patient, Emily (Rooney Mara). Clues lead him to Emily's previous doctor, Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), which reveal that things are not what they seem. Zeta-Jones is juicily and devilishly icy-cold in her portrayal of Siebert, reminding me of those wicked female villains of the 90's thrillers. Staying in the background while having an influence throughout the second half of the movie is Rooney Mara, once again giving a strong performance as the conflicted Emily. Extremely vulnerable, soft-spoken, and unpredictable, she continues to steadily rise as one of the best young actresses working today. Channing Tatum too, as her husband Martin, an ex-convict fresh out of prison for insider trading, portrays his character outside of the stereotype, and turns him into a somewhat sympathetic and unfortunate character.
Soderbergh's complete control of atmosphere would not be complete without his usual great cinematography, crisp editing and unnerving music score by Thomas Newman, who conjures up some interesting musical themes at the proper times to rattle the characters even further. This is extremely skillful filmmaking, and although the plot has been seen and done before, it is exhilarating to see how a master filmmaker commands his given material so strongly and fleshing it out with his signature style.
This is a very good film. It's one of those movies that, when you start watching, you want to keep watching to see what happens next. Hitchcock himself would have smiled at this one. As for Soderbergh, he still has that Liberace biopic due for a TV release later this year, so he's not done with it yet. But well, I sure hope he returns someday if he decides to do so.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you're lucky, Side Effects won't be permanent. For half of the
movie, it is a persuasive indictment of the pharmaceutical industry and
its crass behavior toward its patients; for the other half, it is a
three- cornered mystery/thriller, with double crosses and framings
galore. It is fair to say that the movie is adequate during each of its
disparate parts, but overall it's a convoluted story that immerses
itself in faux intrigue and wraps itself up so neatly that you can
practically see the bow on it.
Emily (Rooney Mara) is a depressive; her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just returned from a stint in prison for insider trading, but she feels anxious and can't sleep. She visits psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes a brand-new drug to help her out when the better-known brands (Zoloft, Paxil, Wellbutrin, etc.) don't seem to break Emily from her ennui. But the drug, as you might have guessed so expertly, does have its side effects.
It turns out - not a spoiler - that Emily has begun to sleepwalk. Well, more than sleepwalk, she does things in her sleep, like cook breakfast and set the table, all in the middle of the night and not remembering a thing the next day. Tragedy strikes while Emily sleeps. Is she the culprit, or is the drug to blame?
At first, the premise seems to be that involving patients in drugs that are just approved, as part of a study, is pretty unethical behavior by a doctor. Dr. Banks has bills to pay, though, what with his wife losing her high-powered job. So he's working longer hours and taking on more work, including participation in this study. When the tragedy that strikes comes back to haunt him as well as Emily, the movie takes a turn - it manages to turn Banks from being just an overextended shmoe into a manipulative drug dealer who uses his patients as experiments. Up until this point, we don't know whether Banks is actually innocent. From what we've seen, he seems so, but he could have inadvertently caused someone's death by prescribing medication to someone who reacted badly to the side effects. Naturally, his reputation (and marriage) in ruins, Banks works to clear his name. This is actually easier than it is in most movies of this ilk, because he's not in prison or anything. He just needs to piece together clues.
One of those clues is Emily's last doctor, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who is helpful but guarded. She relates that Emily left her care in Connecticut when Emily's husband got a job on Wall Street, which ultimately led Emily to see Dr. Banks.
The second half of the movie deals with Banks' efforts to find things out. Racing against time and struggling to believe various stories, he is now in full-on victim mode as presented to the viewer. It's not an unusual role; in fact, it's sort of a trope, the innocent trying to prove themselves. We're now sold on his innocence, and we as the audience just want to know what's happened.
I mentioned before that the movie ends rather neatly. Too neatly for my tastes, although it's not as if the explanations were implausible. But there's nothing wrong with some loose ends, some ambiguity, and this film - the 50th and final (maybe?) to be directed by Steven Soderbergh - leaves nothing ambiguous behind. We know, in full, the motives and fates of each character. Is this a good thing? Many won't be bothered by it, but for me I just prefer to have some questions left unanswered.
Law is adequate, although it feels like he's just stepping in for Tom Cruise when Cruise did all of those "framed man on the run" movies, like The Firm. Zeta-Jones is icy and opaque, two beneficial traits for her character. Mara, of course, steals the show, simply because of this: up until the last moments of the movie, we don't know whether anything about Emily is true. Instead of Law being the victim/accused, Mara's character slips quietly into that very role. In Emily, Mara brings the ambiguity the film needs - it's just too bad that ambiguity did not spread to the rest of the film. Shame; that would be a nice side effect indeed.
I usually love Steven Soderbergh films. And this one starts off with
his usual brilliance and had me hooked for the first half of the film.
The first of the film is well-acted, well-crafted, smart and involving.
Then comes the crunch: without spoiling, the second half of the film is quite different. In a sense the "smart" of the film just becomes an exercise in how "clever" the plot can be at the expense of any emotional truth to the characters. I stopped caring for the ensemble as they started to feel like lifeless pawns following the whims of a "how clever am I?" plot-line. You'll enjoy it if you like a Sunday Afternoon TV Detective movie and like solving the puzzle, but this is not great theatre.
It is better than most films, but only just. Certainly one of Soderbergh's most disappointing. Rooney Mara makes it still watchable - an actress to keep following.
Steven Soderbergh has decided to end his career what can only be
described as a pharmaceutical, psychosexual thriller that deals with
several morally ambiguous characters all revolving around one horrible
incident. Out of fear of giving away the intelligent, twist-filled plot
written by Scot Z. Burns, that's really all I can say, although I can
tell you that Soderbergh directs the film with extreme confidence, and
it shows. He was able to convey a sort of quiet chaos with his frequent
close-ups, and, by shifting in-and-out of focus throughout the screen,
he was able to draw attention to the many small, yet important details.
The real strength of this film, though, is not necessarily the story itself, but how it is presented. To be honest, the story is almost too smart to the point of absurdity, but it never comes off as such. By releasing only one small piece of information at a time, we are kept waiting through interviews, court hearings, false trails, and many psychiatrist visits until, finally, everything comes together into one neat conclusion. The entire film is very subdued, but if you pay attention, you will be rewarded in the end.
Of course, the story would not have turned out so well without the multiple impressive performances that carry it all the way through. Rooney Mara is once again stunning as Emily Taylor, a woman who starts taking prescription antidepressants to cope with her husband's release from prison. Without giving much away, Emily is far more complex than she first appears, and Mara plays this perfectly by retaining a dark mysteriousness about her. She truly steals every scene she's in, and displays such a range of emotions that, at times, it's difficult to tell what her character is truly thinking. This is unfortunate for Channing Tatum, who does a fine job as her loving and sympathetic husband trying to make everything right after being released for insider trading, but who doesn't have close to enough material to compete with Mara.
Jude Law, on the other hand, is arguably the most central figure as Dr. Jonathan Banks, Emily's psychiatrist who is thrown into a scandal when his patient is involved in a tragic accident after taking an antidepressant he prescribed for her. He slowly mentally unravels as his decisions come back to haunt him, and eventually has to cross several moral boundaries in order to get his life back on track. Law shows this frustration with expert skill, and gives one of the best performances of his recent career. The same can be said for Catherine Zeta- Jones, whoas Emily's former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebertgives possibly the most complex performance, and does it brilliantly despite her lack of screen time.
To give away any more would be to say too much, as the film is so perfectly structured, it is difficult to discuss without giving away the whole thing. All I can add is, it is not so simple and straightforward as it may appear. It is a complex of characters, their motives, and the consequences of their actions, and, despite taking a while to get started, it is truly a spectacular, thrilling, and intricate journey that should not be missed.
What a delicious surprise of a movie for this early in the year. As has been the case before, a few films of greatness end up playing just after the first of the year. I saw this movie with expecting a clichéd crime drama. What I saw was one of the most inventive and riotous versions of suspense in years. Despite signs that this genre is dead and buried (no pun intended)here is a very modern film that updates the themes and tones of film noir without a pause or hitch of any kind. And as usual in great movies of this type, the setting is a character as strong as any of the actors. New York City has never looked this depressing and cold. But what really works here is a cast so perfect, that you can hardly remember their names. Each actor fits so perfectly in the tapestry of the plot, that the film has a naturalism so real it is surreal. There is a an incredible attention to detail that is what you would expect from a Broadway play or a painting by Dali. One suggestion-DO NOT go by yourself. Having a fellow traveler to discuss this is very required. And I say this as someone who goes to the movies alone often.
I saw a couple of interviews with the cast before this film came out and they talked about the fact that this film had a lot of twists and turns in it; and they weren't kidding. However, that being said I went in with a certain mindset and it took me a little time to figure it out, but I eventually did. Either the film was moving real slow for me or I have become accustom to seeing more action. This film is purely psychological in nature, so if you are looking for some action, there isn't any. It also got me to thinking how much power court appointed psychologists have and how they have the power to manipulate the system. On the other hand, it also made me realize that mental patients have absolutely no control over their lives (which may be a good thing). Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) is the psychologist on the case of a severely depressed patient. His world is quickly turned upside down by having to deal with anxiety, depression, pharmaceuticals and medical ethics. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is the severely depressed woman who is desperately trying to find the right drug to cure her affliction. Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is a former attending psychologist of Emily who is consulted by Dr. Banks to try and uncover some of the dilemmas of her past. Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) is Emily's husband and is shouldered with the responsibility of trying to care his wife as she tries medication after medication in addition to trying to keep the marriage together. Dierdre Banks (Vinessa Shaw) is Jonathan's wife and she becomes a victim and unwilling participant in the unfolding circumstances that is affecting her life. I think that the entire cast did an excellent job, but as I said before it was a tad slow for me in the beginning. This film definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat and you really do not know who is playing whom. It was difficult to know who to root for until all is revealed at the end. I thought that the story was a good one and it definitely takes you on a roller-coaster ride. I am not sure that anyone could ever reach the level of a Hitchcock film, but this one comes pretty close. Steven Soderbergh did an excellent job embracing this genre of film. I give this film a green light.
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