Starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, Vinessa Shaw, Ann Dowd, Polly Draper, David Costabile, Mamie Gummer
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Expectations: High. I’m becoming quite the Soderbergh fan.
Side Effects is ultimately a thriller, but you’d never know it by the way the film sets itself up. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a depressed woman whose husband (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison. He was locked up for insider trading, but now that he’s back on the right side of the bars, he’s trying his best to set their lives back on course. Meanwhile, Emily is having a hard time dealing with her mental issues, and one day while exiting a parking garage she decides to take the exit sign painted on the brick wall literally. She drives her car straight into it, and thus sets into motion the twisting that must occur for any thriller to be successful.
But those expecting a thriller right out of the gate will be disappointed by the slow, dramatic crawl towards the thriller content in Side Effects. It’s there, and it’s rather intriguing and interesting to unravel, but less patient viewers will definitely feel the urge to switch the film off before it gets there. Even acknowledging this fact, the film is a little slow in places, and the some of the second half isn’t as strong as it could be. Regardless, Side Effects is largely a successful film.
Steven Soderbergh is such a smart, subtle filmmaker, and it’s these qualities that kept me interested the most in Side Effects. He never holds your hand, instead he carefully arranges the pieces and allows the audience to be an active participant in the unraveling. Unfortunately, not everything in the film is as subtle as I’d have liked it to be, with one pulpy plot line feeling especially cheap and pandering. I don’t want to reveal anything by talking in specifics, but this element felt needlessly gratuitous and below Soderbergh’s talents. Even though this is just a minor piece to the Side Effects puzzle, it ultimately made me think less of the film. The sad thing is that it could have easily been handled differently without affecting the story, to much more artistically pleasing results.
Soderbergh always coaxes good performances from his actors, but I thought Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones were rather unbelievable as doctors. Jude Law recalls something of his investigative blogger character from Soderbergh’s Contagion instead of feeling especially doctor-like. Zeta-Jones was even less believable, and I think unknown actors would’ve fit the movie a lot more. I understand that doesn’t put butts in seats, though, and I suppose that makes this more of a mainstream Soderbergh movie than an indie one (although it doesn’t feel mainstream AT ALL).
While I really enjoyed Side Effects, I think it’d be a shame if Soderbergh followed through with his self-imposed retirement and let this be his final theatrical release. I hope he decides to pick up the camera at some point in the future. He’s too good a talent to just pack it in already, crafting some of the most original and thoughtful films of the modern era. Side Effects isn’t exactly representative of that, but it’s still pretty good and different from other 2013 offerings.