Side Effects Reviews
Watched this on 04/04/14
Side Effects has a lot of distinguishable plot twists throughout the entire film and that's what keep this film going. After watching Contagion, I have sworn not to watch any other Steven Soderbergh film, but I decided to give this film a look and it paid off. Just like his role in Contagion, Jude Law has done an exceptional work and so does Rooney Mara. Channing Tatum doesn't disappoint, but Catherine Zeta-Jones' acting is below par. The direction and background score are good.
This is a shifty movie that starts you out thinking that it is going to head you in one direction and, just when you are thinking "Oh no, not another Hollywood whine about the awfulness of big business, big medicine and immoral doctors," it ditches you into an entirely different plot.
This is not some shallow James Cameron movie with a political agenda. This movie is about questions of true morality and ethics. It is about how normal people with normal ethics can be used and twisted by those who have fewer scruples. All this is wrapped up in a neat, Hitchcockian crime story.
The pacing of the movie is deliberate. After all, this is a story that is about depression at its root and depression doesn't happen quickly.
The main actors are so good in their roles: The little tells that are written into the script that give windows into the characters' true motivations never stand out as red flags but build in the back of your mind as you make your own decisions about what is happening.
I was totally engrossed in this movie and it was as good at the second watching.
Jude Law (as Dr. J. Banks) comes away unscathed. Roona Mara (as E. Taylor) may be the star and pivotal character of this moovie and is in complete and utter control of the first two acts, but Law owns the third as the conquering valiant hero who reclaims his wife and family and his career and reputation as a shrink and legitimate drug distributor.
Critics have to stop calling this a Film Noir or Neo Noir or any sort of Noir whatsoever. No Noir on earth would stoop to such hero-takes-all happy-ending nonsense. How does the mastermind of such an elaborate plan to literally get away with murder and get super rich from insider trading by bringing down a giant drug company get so sloppy and crumble so easily in the end? Why would she push her luck and consent to any of Law's desperate last-ditch-attempt tricks? Why did she even need to destroy his marriage since it serves no purpose to her ambitions and only provokes him to exact revenge?
An authentic Noir would have been a more harrowing but satisfying experience. There would have been accelerated sexual tension between the doctor and his patient which leads to a lurid affair. Yes, lust corrupts the imperfect hero. Mara's jealous lesbian lover and co-conspirator Catherine Zeta-Jones as Dr. V. Siebert (too bad hubby Douglas wasn't cast as Dr. Banks) would then have reason to destroy Dr. Law's marriage and expose Mara as a con and, in the end, get away with all the money herself on some exotic beach sipping some exotic beverage. Even the brilliant Mara couldn't have seen this coming. Sure, Dr. Law gets his practice back but not his wife.
Instead we are left with an impossibly virtuous and infallible white male hero who restores all his hegemonic privileges and is no worse for the wear.
At the end of the day,
Doctor and Drug Companies: good,
The same is true of Side Effects. When it begins, with our lead character going through an endless transition from anxiety pill to anxiety pill in an attempt to feel better, or at least something, it seems that Soderbergh's last film is going to be an open fire on the pill industry. But as it progresses through a murder and some beautifully strung paranoia, we realise it's done a somersault in a different direction and becomes a mystery to rival Agatha Christie's most gleefully loopy narratives for twists, turns and all-exposing final reveals.
And you can't help but feel Soderbergh's steady influence throughout these proceedings. His signature look and feel aside, it's the calm ease with which he ushers us through this transition; the seamless joins where one genre ends and the other begins. And despite the fact that mystery movies by now have the been-there-done-that feel to them, through key sequences and cleverly framed moments, Soderbergh never loses our attention for a second. When Emily drives her car into a wall, for instance, it's clearly stated to be a suicidal attempt, a cry for help in her time of mental anguish. But when this is shown to be something else entirely, all but the most suspicious of viewers will be taken by surprise by a trick which has been seen many times before. Or when Emily breaks down at a party, we see it as an understandable display of a complex emotion which Emily must be going through. Yet when it, too, is shown in its true light, it once again takes us by surprise. This rejuvenation of an often clichéd genre is what sets Stephen Soderbergh apart from a director who may have taken the work at face value. It's his understanding of the genre and its tropes which makes it possible for him to pull off such a blindside on an audience who are used to being blindsided.
Audiences aren't surprised by things anymore. Twist endings have less and less effect the more they are used. And they are used often. Time and time again, audience members, myself included, walk out of a cinema saying, "I saw that coming." We've been conditioned not to trust anyone on the screen. The Usual Suspects taught us that the most convincing of narrators can be false. Citizen Kane taught us to look for the tiniest detail. Planet of the Apes taught us to think on a wider scale. We know this twist-ending stuff back to front. In light of this, Stephen Soderbergh has pulled off something of a coup d'etat on our understandings. This is a director pulling a switch on a genre, not just a plot; something which is entirely more difficult to do and much more difficult to predict. If this is confirmed to be the film he's going out on, he's going out with a bang.
But it would be more of a whimper if the cast didn't bring their A-game, and they definitely do. Rooney Mara, already having garnered critical acclaim for her tough, raw performance in David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is fantastic as Emily; the depressed wife of a con-man newly released from prison. In keeping with Soderbergh's sleight of hand, Mara is 100% believable as both the housewife in the throes of depression, sinking in a sea of anti-anxiety pills and anti-depressants, as well as her second act counterpart as a scheming mastermind. It's a fantastic performance, not as explosive or shocking as her 2011 role, but no less demanding. She has more emotion to work with here, more sides to her character, and she plays them all with utter conviction.
But as the film does an about face, so too does its leading character, jumping from Emily to her doctor, Jonathan Banks, played by Jude Law. Law has always proven to be an impressive actor but he hasn't had many chances to show it recently. Here, finally given a chance, he brings the talent which made him such a valuable commodity in the first place, moving from professional therapist to quivering wreck as he lands under the microscope of a massive investigation, then to seemingly paranoid conspiracy theorist and finally to satisfied victor. It's a performance which demands a huge range and Law displays just that, never failing to connect with the audience whether he's harassing Emily or desperately trying to convince his wife to stand by him. Catherine Zeta-Jones is all fire and energy in her small but important role and Channing Tatum shows his ever-increasing skill as Emily's ill-fated husband, but at the centre of the film are the two performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara, and they both do a fantastic job.
But it really is Soderbergh's film. Though he's never onscreen, his presence is always felt, through either his understated, murky style of filming which walks some unseen line between realism and fairytale so deftly that he is able to jump between one or the other at will. Or through the ease with which he's able to change so quickly from devastating drama to paranoid thriller without tipping his hand. It's impressive work from someone who has always been a generator of impressive work and the movie scene will be that much poorer in his absence.