Side Effects Review: Soderbergh’s Swan Song Goes Down Easy

Rating: Well here we are: Steven Soderbergh has graced us with his final theatrical film effort, with Beyond the Candelabra...

Mike Reyes

Contributor

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Rating: ★★★★★

Well here we are: Steven Soderbergh has graced us with his final theatrical film effort, with Beyond the Candelabra signing his career off on HBO later this Spring. You wouldn’t be able to tell from looking, as he leaves everything on the field with Side Effects. Be it the cinematography, the performances, even the musical score; everything seems to oppress and sedate in this film, and only to the story’s advantage. When first announced, people were expecting a film more like Contagion, which was also written by Scott Z. Burns. This film is not anything like Contagion in the sense that instead of putting social relevance and verisimilitude to the forefront, Soderbergh wants to leave us entertained and thrilled. Side Effects delivers on both fronts, and then some.

Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) works hard at what he does in the field of Psychiatry. He works long hours at a local hospital as well as his local practice, and now he’s just signed onto a study with a drug company.  The lengths of which he’ll go to in order to do his job perfectly are put to the test when he starts treating Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara). Ms. Taylor has been diagnosed with a case of depression after an incident triggered by her husband’s (Channing Tatum) return from prison lands her in the hospital. Though things seem wrapped up pretty tightly, Emily murders someone and winds up sending Dr. Banks on a quest for the truth that brings us back to the mature, pulpy fare that the 80’s and 90’s were famous for.

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Steven Soderbergh has returned to small scale filmmaking with his almost final directorial effort, focusing on a limited cast of characters as opposed to pieced like the Oceans Trilogy or Contagion, which had medium to large ensemble casts. While he’s not given much to do, Channing Tatum is the weakest link in the chain, but again they don’t really use him to his full potential. The same could be said for Catherine Zeta Jones, as her portrayal of Emily’s previous psychiatrist is really used for dramatic affect towards the end of the film. The reality of the matter is, this is Jude Law’s film. As central as Rooney Mara’s character is to the plot, she’s almost a living macguffin compared to how much the ads show her plotline off.

No stranger to carrying a film, and no stranger to Soderbergh’s direction, Law manages to play the role of the man in the middle of the fun house with an even keel. Credit should also go to Scott Z. Burnes, as his story could have devolved into the more lurid version of this story we’re used to from decades past. Instead, we’re presented with a visually and thematically repressed story that manages to almost convey a palpable air of medicated fog. Even Thomas Newman’s musical score plays up both the aura of the zombified states Emily sometimes finds herself in and the peril Dr. Burns finds himself experiencing.
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The only real criticism that could be given to this film, at least from this author’s perspective, is the fact that the “big reveal” could have been worked in just a little better. The film spends its time building this tense atmosphere of Dr. Burn’s futile quest to find out just what really happened with his patient, and then finds itself taking a suitable, yet predictable, turn for the thrilling. This mostly has to do with one of the characters not being all that developed before letting them rip in Act III, but nevertheless when the turn comes it works for the story’s betterment. It’s a moderate gripe, but one that isn’t a dealbreaker, as the film manages to still deliver a powerful ending that satisfies and resolves the questions and events that proceed.

Overall, Steven Soderbergh has left us with a lasting picture that he should be proud to call his final theatrical cinematic achievement. While he’s planning a move to more stage directing, it’s movies like this that make us wish he wouldn’t go just yet. Surely he could breathe life into The Man From U.N.C.L.E., or maybe pick up Elmore Leonard’s Road Dogs to bring everyone’s favorite non-Oceanic Clooney thief, Jack Foley, back to the big screen. Regardless of his reasons, Soderbergh has done right by his fans by choosing his exit masterfully. This, folks, is how you let the curtain drop.

Poster

Side Effects was released on February 8th in the US, and will be released in the UK on March 15th. Ask your doctor if Ablixa is right for you.