Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta- Jones
You may like this if you liked: Contagion (Steven Soderbergh, 2011), The Ghost (Roman Polanski, 2010), Unknown (Juame Collet-Serra, 2011)
Emily (Mara) and her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) lived a happily married and very affluent life due to his money earned as a stock broker. Unfortunately he got caught insider trading and was sent to prison and she was forced to live a much more humble life style. She has however remained loyal and he is now due for release. However what should be a happy time in her life is ruined by suffering severe depression which basically is dominating her life. After intentionally driving her car into a wall, Emily is seen by Dr. Banks (Law) at the hospital and she becomes his patient. After consulting Emily’s previous Doctor, Dr. Seibert (Zeta- Jones) and discovering many unsuccessful medications, Dr. Banks prescribes a new drug called Ablixa. The Ablixa appears to work as Emily feels like herself again, and her and Martin’s relationship dramatically improves. However the Ablixa also comes with side effects including sleep walking. After a violent crime occurs due to Emily’s sleepwalking she is put on trial but wins a not-guilty plea but is forced to stay in a secure hospital. Meanwhile Dr. Banks is blamed for the murder and his life begins to crumble around him. Determined not to have to have to take full responsibility Dr. Banks investigates further into the source of Ablixa to try and determine who or what is exactly to blame.
So apparently this is the directorial swansong from a man who it seems to make a film every other month, it should be a dramatic goodbye then. Well, Soderbergh is clearly at the top of his game here right from the off. This is an extremely well made film and the direction, camera work, editing and cinematography are all excellent and a major contributor as to why Side Effects are a very enjoyable and watchable film. The grey cinematography and Thomas Newman’s excellent score help to create a fitting atmosphere and the loneliness, claustrophobia and unforgiving nature of living in a big city. It is just as well Soderbergh is on such good form as the script he has been given to work with is pretty basic.
Writer Scott Z. Burns also wrote Soderbergh’s Contagion and though clearly avery well researched film was very soulless. Side Effects suffers from slightly the same problem as not a single character is particularly likeable and I found myself not particularly caring for any of them. This is a film with twists and turns aplenty and these are actually quite predictable but yet there is a certain feeling of slightly deluded smugness within the script. There are some interesting concepts here and I don’t want to give too much away, but the narrative tends to descend into a generic erotic thriller (though with very little sex). If this was a film in the 90s starring Sharon Stone there would be plenty of opportunities for cheeky sex scenes to be thrown into the story. Trust me, anyone who has seen those kinds of films and then watches this will not be able to help notice the similarities as the second half of the narrative unfolds.
Despite this, Side Effects is a very watchable and enjoyable film that does not fail to entertain. As well as Soderbergh and composer Thomas Newman who both help to create a great atmosphere, Rooney Mara is the true star that keeps it all together and makes this film so watchable. Her performance is exceptional and she is extremely watchable and gives a truly compelling performance capturing so many different emotions with convincing aplomb, it is just a shame she did not have a better script to work with. Jude Law is also pretty good and captures the desperation of his character very well. Zeta- Jones hams it up to the max and her eyebrows are permanently curved like a pair of archways but it is kind of fitting of the character she plays. As the story reaches its conclusion I was not particularly shocked at all the twists and turns but I did feel it was a satisfying conclusion.
If this is to be Soderbergh’s swansong then it is unfortunately nowhere near being his masterpiece, however a great reminder of the effect a director who knows exactly what he is doing can have on a film. Thanks to Soderbergh as well as some great performances, Side Effects is a very atmospheric and well made film that is very enjoyable, entertaining and extremely watchable. Do not expect to be blown away or shocked by dramatic twists, but just sit back and expect to be entertained and you will not be disappointed.