Thursday, March 7, 2013

Side Effects (2013)




**This review contains spoilers**

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is awaiting her husband’s return from jail. After receiving a four year sentence for insider trading, Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) returns to his wife with the hopes of starting a new life, and slowly piecing everything back together. But Emily has trouble adjusting to Martin’s presence in her life, and Emily quickly sinks into a deep depression. Emily tries to commit suicide by driving her car into a wall, but she survives the crash.

As Emily’s assigned psychiatrist,  Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) contemplates sending Emily to a mental hospital, but Emily pushes for a series of one on one sessions with Dr. Banks instead, and he agrees. With the help of various medications, Emily slowly recovers from her depression, and the relationship with Martin improves. Emily enjoys her newfound happiness, and Martin is looking for a way to “get back in the game.”

But Emily’s erratic behavior worries Dr. Banks and Martin. As she prepares for dinner one night, Emily murders Martin with a butcher knife during a sleepwalking phase (a side effect from Emily’s most recent prescription drug). Emily’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) lends a helping hand by revealing crucial information about her former patient that could save Emily from a lifelong imprisonment.

As Emily goes through her trial, Dr. Banks’ reputation is destroyed, and answering the three most important questions surrounding Emily’s fate could clear his name, or ruin his life forever: Is Emily just a cold-blooded killer? Is Emily the victim of a bad reaction to the medication? Or did Emily knowingly murder her husband for her own selfish reasons? 

At first, Emily is a sympathetic character. Mara really nailed the broken and helpless victim persona during Emily's breakdown, but as the story develops, Mara shows us a more diabolical and devious personality. Mara’s transformation is smooth, and her ability to bounce back and forth between Evil Emily and Innocent Emily towards the end is remarkable. 

Catherine Zeta-Jones is solid as Dr. Siberet, but she’s more entertaining as the treacherous bitch, who’ll do anything to destroy Dr. Banks. Jude Law is a good leading man, and for the second time, Law forms a cohesive team with director Steven Soderbergh. If Soderbergh sticks around longer (more on that later), Soderbergh/Law could reach the levels of Sam Jackson and Quentin Tarantino, or John Goodman and The Coen Brothers for successful director/actor teams. They won’t reach the levels of Scorsese/De Niro, but both men could have a bright future together. As far as Channing Tatum goes, I don’t think it’s fair to grade his performance here. His screen time is limited, Tatum doesn’t make it to the end, and his character doesn’t have any spoken dialogue in flashbacks.

I’m indifferent to director Steven Soderbergh’s work. I’ll admit, I haven’t seen all of his films (I will never watch Magic Mike), but I really enjoyed Haywire and Contagion. Soderbergh returns to the big screen with precision, and a sleek style for Side Effects. Soderbergh has a formula behind the camera, and he sticks to it. You’ll always notice the crisp cinematography, deliberate pacing, and Soderbergh’s work has a unique and stylish look. It’s weird, because Soderbergh has voiced his desires to retire or “take a break” recently. Contagion, Magic Mike, and Side Effects received positive feedback for the most part, and you could say Soderbergh is peaking at the right time, so why walk away? Unless I forgot some crucial details (family problems, stress, etc.) about Soderbergh’s statements regarding the decision to walk away for a while, I’m honestly baffled by this decision. Filmmaking isn’t like pro sports, or some other profession that requires a physical  effort. You don’t have to worry about the shelf life problem in the world of movies, and I hope Soderbergh will return to directing soon enough.

Side Effects is a real mind-fuck. Side Effects starts out as a cautionary tale about the side effects of anti-depressant medications, and a conspiracy about psychiatrists, who use their patients as guinea pigs for testing new medications. Eventually, the story evolves into an intricate murder mystery, as Dr. Banks struggles to clear his name. Side Effects is a crafty and smart thriller with shocking and thought-provoking twists, and a well-executed suspenseful finale. I know it’s early, but I loved every second of Side Effects, and I was glued to the screen during the last twenty minutes.

Final Rating: 10/10

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