Film Review: Side Effects
It’s incredibly difficult to review a film like Steven Soderbergh’s supposedly final film, Side Effects. Its magic works best on you if you have no idea what you’re going in to see, and even if you wish to know more, I can only really review bits of the film to avoid spoiling anything.
In the loosest description, Side Effects concerns Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a depressed woman whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is being released from prison after four years for insider trading. In this time, we learn, Emily has lost nearly everything, and now lives in a tiny apartment in New York. After a series of episodes, Emily drives her car straight into a wall, and meets psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who soon prescribes her different antidepressants, one of which has a rather unexpected side effect. From there, the film spirals off into several directions you won’t see coming…
Side Effects is one of those films that features so many twists and turns that it’s almost impossible to review without letting anything slip. My synopsis barely covers the first twenty minutes, as the film eventually gets so far removed from the opening you feel like you’re watching a different film. It’s a fascinating film in that just when you think you’re beginning to get a grip on things, it gives you another clue and races off again.
Without using any major action set pieces or the usual genre clichés, Side Effects is a proper grown up thriller that has brains and intelligence, as well as actually interesting characters. Emily is a strange presence in that she spends a lot of film in depressed stupor, not entirely sure of herself or her surroundings, and yet you always feel for her, whether for good or bad. Jonathan, meanwhile, is a consummate professional and family man whose life slowly begins to unravel, and you genuinely feel for him, which so few films these days actually bother to do.
Rooney Mara seems to make a habit of playing cold, impassive characters (see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and her role in this is no different. When depressed at the start, she is very sympathetic, and the film itself is one of the best onscreen depictions of depression I’ve seen, and through later events in the film, she is in turns worrying, disturbing, and just ever so slightly sinister. I’m a fan of Channing Tatum, and though in the long run his role is fairly minor, he is, for a man who has been in prison for years, very likeable and pleasant.
As our leading man, Jude Law really gives a fantastic performance. So rarely these days does he get the leading role in a big film, and goes for it with aplomb. Even when some of his actions are questionable, or downright unfair, he is a solid moral reference point, and when he later begins to regain power, it’s a real cheering, fist in the air moment. Also, in a small but important role, Catherine Zeta-Jones, who I haven’t seen in mainstream cinema in a while, brings a certain seductive charm to her role as a fellow psychiatrist, who it turns out is more than she seems.
Steven Soderbergh is a fantastic, original director, and there is some real beauty in Side Effects. One scene stands out in particular, in which Emily wanders out in a haze on a boat, where the camera moved so delicately around the boat to follow her trail, I was left feeling that Soderbergh’s retirement will be a fantastic shame for cinematic audiences. If this really is the end, however, he has ended on a huge high. Side Effects is an excellent drama that uses its excellent cast and clever script to give its audience a mixture of Hitchcockian ‘wronged man’ thriller and cold, Cronenbergian medical scares. It is a rare treat of a thriller that twists and turns in exciting directions, and it will be an excellent year if Side Effects is removed from my top ten of 2013.
By Harry Ford