Side Effects might be Steven Soderbergh’s last film for theatrical release and while that is terribly depressing he couldn’t have gone out on a much higher note.
At its heart, Side Effects is a twisty little thriller that goes to a lot of unexpected places and is perfectly plotted there along the way. Because getting into those details is a disservice to the viewer this might not be the lengthiest review, but in short bad stuff happens. Rooney Mara plays a sympathetic wife of a convicted and just released insider trader, played by Channing Tatum, and when some of her pre-existing signs of depression begin to show up she comes under the care of a seemingly excellent psychiatrist played by Jude Law. As the group circles towards a cure the side effects of the hot new drug cause problems for everyone involved.
No more plot details to be shared beyond that, but I assure the film is far more engaging than that brief synopsis might let on. The script by Scott Z. Burns mixed with Soderbergh’s direction (they last teamed up on Contagion) keeps the film moving right along and enthralls from the opening frames. You slowly get sucked into the world as the plot slowly thickens and the second half of the film takes you to a place you probably won’t see coming. Burns and Soderbergh do such a great job at telling through showing and entirely respect the audience that I was on board 100% with the picture until the last 10 minutes or so. It’s not that those moments ruin the film by any means, its just information and knowledge that seemed entirely unnecessary for our characters to reach emotional catharsis. The movie going public on the other hand might need this hand holding, I don’t know, but it seems almost out of place against the rest of the picture I can’t help but comment. It is the only misstep by the creative team has, who otherwise makes things look effortless; even if not as technically flashy as Soderbergh can really get.
I also loved how Burns’ script kind of has it out for everyone and the first half of the film just continues to layer on about how shitty so many aspects of our society are. The legal system, the media, pharmaceuticals and the fact that we think we can take a pill to make things better are all laid to waste as the film moves along. It does so without ever firmly putting any of these ideas in the cross-hairs; impressive and non-preachy commentary.
The actors in the cast are also quite great with the exception of Catherine Zeta-Jones. I hate to pick on her, but she never comes across as very authentic and I can’t buy her as being as imposing as she is supposed to be. She is playing and ex-psychiatrist of Mara’s character, Emily, and their relationship especially falls flat in a reveal in that weak ten minutes I mentioned above. Mara on the other hand is excellent, and while some might say that her playing a doped up and expressionless zombie half of the time isn’t much of a stretch, I never didn’t believe her along the way. The character also has depth and her performance only feels stronger after you think back after everything is said and done. Jude Law nearly matches her as he dives down the rabbit hole while always having just enough control over his emotions. He is sent on a roller coaster over the course of the film and never misses a moment to shine in one of his better performances in some time. Channing Tatum is also as solid as he always been these last couple years and he works well off Mara and plays his part effectively so that we feel just about the right amount we are supposed to for him.
In the end, Side Effects is easily the best film of 2013 so far and will actually be a tough challenger to topple as the year goes on. Those last few minutes of the film make it weak enough that it surely will fall from that mantle, but up until that bit of a misstep I don’t know if I could have found a complaint to put against it. Don’t miss it.
Side Effects is an A-
P.S. Thomas Newman’s score is phenomenal and rivals his work on Skyfall from last year.