Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta Jones and Channing Tatum
Review Written By: Michael Dalton (Prime Minister)
Side Effects is a film that must be appreciated for the way in which it grabs and holds your attention through the strength of its story, dialogue and performances. In a summer and a Hollywood age dominated by explosions, bombast, spectacle and excessive CGI, it is a breath of fresh air to see a film that needs no such gimmicks in order to put you on the edge of your seat. Side Effects also has another quality rarely found in films today, unpredictability. Side Effects is in a sense three different films rolled into one, constantly leaving you guessing as to just how it will conclude right up until its final scene. While the nature and content of some of these twists and turns may ultimately become far fetched, the feeling of being surprised whilst watching a film in a cinema was something to be welcomed. It is for the unpredictability of this film and the simplicity and purity of its presentation and techniques that I have an appreciation for Side Effects, which perhaps extended beyond, and augmented, my enjoyment.
Soderbergh is a very stylish filmmaker who demonstrated last year with Haywire, that he can visually elevate what would otherwise be very standard and generic films. However Side Effects is perhaps the opposite scenario with Soderbergh not intruding on the film or letting you know he is behind the camera, instead telling and presenting the much more substantial story in a very efficient manner. This more reserved approach by Soderbergh standards does at times give this film a rather televisual rather than cinematic feel. The pacing of the film is also slightly problematic in the first act, however once a key event occurs the film does not let up for a second and grips you until the last minute.
The film is one that seems to start as a relationship drama with social commentary regarding the modern medication obsessed world. Covering some Take Shelter territory regarding the way in which we treat and deal with mental illness. It then becomes a morality piece as questions regarding the legal system and its relationship with the media arise. In both instances a critique is apparent regarding the desire for a ‘quick fix’ the third act then evolves or devolves depending on your tastes, into a conspiracy thriller. Whilst some may claim the film gets progressively sillier as the social commentary is stripped away in favour of something more far-fetched and convoluted, there is no denying that the film gets progressively more exciting as it proceeds. Whilst upon further reflection certain elements of the third act didn’t sit well with me and didn’t stand up to further scrutiny, such thoughts only came after the film had thrilled and surprised me. If Side Effects had been a book instead of a film, it would have been the next ‘Gone Girl’ thriller best-selling hit that you saw everyone reading on public transport for a couple of months, such is the nature of its twists.
What really allows this film to work however and sell its sillier moments, are the performances. Rooney Mara is one of the finest young actresses working today, a claim cemented with her work in this film. She manages to pull off all the multiple sides to her character perfectly and the range of emotions she is able to put you through regarding her character is impressive. This is underrated work from her that will be forgotten come the end of the year, however by the end of the year it is unlikely that there will be many performances more central to their film’s success than this one. Equally effective is Jude Law, as a character that like Rooney Mara’s starts off as seemingly one thing and throughout the film becomes something else entirely. These two performances dominate and carry the film with both of them being consistently believable and engaging. Mara in particular crucially provides the film with all of its most significant emotional beats solely through her facial expressions and body language.
Overall Side Effects is an efficiently directed, powerfully acted, unpredictable and gripping film. While it’s slow start and rather convoluted as well as tidy conclusion prevents it from the greatness it could have achieved, this is one of 2013’s better films.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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