Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Markus Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Now playing at Century 20 Oakridge Mall in San Jose, California:
With an opening and closing shot reminiscent of Almodovar’s “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” and a story which turns into something very Hitchcockian in nature, “Side Effects” is the latest and supposedly the final feature film from acclaimed director Steven Soderberg. So, is it any good? Well yes, “Side Effects” will be considered by most as a “good movie”. The problem with that being, “Side Effects” starts off as a GREAT movie, and quickly settles into its “good movie” status. Allow me to explain: In a tale of two halves, what could have been another “Contagion”, or in this case a cautionary/dystopian tale about the abuse of prescription medication, after minute 45 is turned by writer Scott Z. Burns (who actually wrote “Contagion”) into something of a routine psychological thriller, predicated on a seemingly forced mystery style outline.
The Plot: Rooney Mara plays Emily, a well to do New Yorker who suffers from depression and anxiety. After her husband (played by Channing Tatum) and her psychiatrist (played by Jude Law) begin to show concerns for her well-being, Emily is put on a drug called Ablixa; a fairly new drug on the pharmaceutical market, but one which contains a nasty side effect. Now, there are more plot developments throughout this story (a bit too many if you ask me) which welcome different interpretations of the term “side effects”, but like any Hitchcock film, it’s not as if spoilers are going to nullify the brilliant filmmaking, but the less you know about “Side Effects” going in, the more suspenseful of a movie-going experience it will be.
Now, as I alluded to before, it is not until this film turns into a mystery movie, that things begin to sputter a bit. The main issues with which I am referring to center around the layers of contrivances which begin to accumulate the further and further into the story we get; until an ending, which may cause some audience’s eyes to roll right out of their heads. In saying that, there are two things I came out of this film wholeheartedly knowing:
1. Steven Soderberg has now solidified himself as one of the most successfully versatile directors working today.
2. Soderberg’s ability to elevate a plot that isn’t the strongest into something of consistent entertainment, even when the script begins to fail him, proves that he, much like Spielberg, is one of the few GREAT DIRECTORS who can take a routine idea and make it a compelling watch.
The Acting: OK, so while Rooney Mara is the central focus of “Side Effects” for a good chunk of its first half, make no mistake about it, as far as performances are concerned, this is Jude Law’s movie; as he gives maybe the best performance of his career. Not to say Mara’s performance is bad, but it’s definitely overshadowed. I’ll put it this way: The first half is clearly Soderberg’s film and the second half I would say belongs to Law (with maybe a little snippet near the end handed over to Catherine Zeta-Jones, who plays the foil to Law’s character). Therefore, Mara and Tatum’s performances are humbled, essentially by default.
Final Thought: “Side Effects” falls somewhere in between “Magic Mike” and “Haywire” as far as my recommendation goes. Meaning, even though I would consider “Side Effects” as a second tier Soderberg production, a second tier Soderberg production is still more interesting to watch than most established director’s award winning stuff.
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