Side Effects

 Steven Soderbergh and his screenwriter Scott Z. Burns have crafted a psychological thriller which stars Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum. It is a gripping and involving drama made all the more interesting due to the lack of the usual overload of explosions, gun fire, and car chases that we get in movies these days. Simply, this is a fine film that makes you think.

Rooney Mara has never looked better on-screen, and she commands most of the screen time. Jude Law also gets a bear’s portion of face time as well, and his performance is well done.

The film has a good many twists and turns, and even the trailer keeps some secrets. The trailer is at the end of my review which I’ve done my best to keep it spoiler free, so feel free to skip watching the trailer. The title of the film is Side Effects. Which leads you to the thought that this is about a big pharmaceutical company fending off a law suit.

That’s been done before, only with a big Agro-Chemical firm. That film starred George Clooney, and was called Michael Clayton. Side Effects is just kind of similar. The difference between Michael Clayton and Side Effects is that the battle lines are much fuzzier and we watch but not from an attorney’s perspective.

At times, we aren’t sure that what we saw was real or a hallucination. At other times the we lose track of who are the victims and who are the perpetrators. The film will keep you guessing, and things change-up time and time again, and as you watch, you’ll find that you’ll need to go back and re-work your theories.

Of course none of this is rocket science. But you will need to pay attention as there are clues – some of which are important and telling, and others are  false clues. And I think that’s what makes the film worthwhile.

I almost said ‘fun’ rather than worthwhile. This is not a fun film. But this isn’t a morose affair either. The fun is that you do become involved. You do try to figure out stuff. I’m not sorry to say that my conclusion as I walked out, was that I was impressed, and I enjoyed the 105 minutes.

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Rooney Mara is a tiny woman and here she’s been given a huge role in this film. We only got a brief glimpses of her in a few scenes in The Social Network and she sparkled. From there, she got a star’s turn, and definitely a major career boost, when she was signed to appear in the David Fincher version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the sequels.

While Mara was superb as Lisbeth, the role was a distance from most of us. I’m not talking about the film being set in Sweden. Instead I mean that, while most of us were rooting for Lisbeth, there was no doubt that she was a strange woman. It wasn’t that she was admirable, but rather that she was scary.

Here, in Side Effects, Rooney plays a character, Emily Taylor, that is much easier for us to identify with. I found her performance mesmerizing.

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Jude Law appears as Dr. Jonathan Banks. Here, he is most definitely not doing a physical role like he did as Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes films. Here we perceive a fine quality to his performance which is artfully nuanced and intellectual. He does well, and rather than bringing out a whole array of actors tics, gestures, and postures – like Vincent D’Onofrio as Detective Robert Goren in Law & Order/Criminal Intent has done so successfully, Law plays his Dr. Banks as an every-man. His speaking accent, which does set him aside from most Americans,  is not of consequence. Law’s Banks is amiable, and professional and seemingly ideal. Even as events seem to place him in untenable positions, we stay with him.

We’re like saying, Jeez, what will he do next?

Zeta-Jones and Tatum bring oomph to the cast if we’re discussing populating the cast with actors that have marquee value, but neither stands out. Zeta-Jones plays a consulting doctor, and Tatum is Rooney Mara’s character’s husband. As Emily says very early on – I was a bartender, and he swept me off my feet.

Zeta-Jones is hidden beneath big-eye glasses, and big shoulders on her blouses and suits. She’s well-tailored and looks just like what you might imagine a psychiatrist catering to wealthy clientele and working in tony Greenwich, CT might look like.

Channing Tatum as Martin Taylor, a Wall Street Master-of-the-Universe, looks like he was born to play that kind of role. Richard Gere just did a turn like that in Arbitrage. For Tatum, think of Gere, only 30 years younger.

Other notables were Sheila Tapia as Emily’s attorney, Vinessa Shaw as Deidre Banks, and the Original Music created by Thomas Newman. We have heard that this will be Soderbergh’s last theatrical feature film – but I’m not going to bet on that. But if it were, Soderbergh has delivered an excellent film. He, as usual, not only directs , but he also mans the camera, and is at the controls of the editing console.

I’m going to peg this film as a four point zero. It’s first and third acts were terrific but the middle act was a bit slower paced, and it got a bit dull. Reviewing for the LA Times, Kenneth Turan has called Side Effects an exciting thriller, [that is] kind of preposterous, but a hugely enjoyable film.

I’m going to agree with all of that, and I’m going to add that this film will be dueling at the box office with Identity Thief. Soderbergh’s movies are not generally the kind of films that make the owners of the theater chains happy as their coffers are rapidly filled with coin of the realm. Rather, Soderbergh is out to make you think, which is a whole different kind of reward.

Side Effects won’t win the box-office wars, but will it reward you nicely for your investment in a ticket.

The HD Trailer follows.

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2 thoughts on “Side Effects

  1. I just now found this — what a nice job, JMM. I loved those moments when we had no idea who the good guy/bad guy was; and when we weren’t sure whether we should identify with Emily or Banks. Fantastic.

    The one thing I disagree on is the question of the ending — I found it increasingly disappointing and aggravating. But that’s not to say I didn’t love the ride.

    I read it as Soderbergh getting tired; whaddaya think about that reading?

    • Can’t say that I disagree with your premise. Whether it (the ending) be rushed, or a gusher of information delivered as fast as possible, or simply not as satisfying as you had hoped for – I chose in my review to not call them to task for it – because –

      they would have to let out more info or clues earlier. As you said – you loved the ride. As did I.

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