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Side Effects Review

February 11, 2013 | Posted by Joseph Lee
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Side Effects Review  

*Jude Law as Dr. Jonathan Banks
*Rooney Mara as Emily Taylor
*Catherine Zeta-Jones as Dr. Victoria Siebert
*Channing Tatum as Martin Taylor

Story: Emily and Martin are a successful New York couple whose world unravels when a new drug prescribed by Emily’s psychiatrist – intended to treat anxiety – has unexpected side effects.

Trivia: Emily Blunt, Olivia Wilde Imogen Poots, Alice Eve, Amanda Seyfried and Michelle Williams were considered for the lead role, Blake Lively was cast but was later replaced by Rooney Mara.

Side Effects addresses what definitely can be considered a problem in America. We rely too much on medication. There is a medicine for everything. We may not even need half the medicines we get, but we take them anyway. It’s really bad in the realm of psychology, as patients can go through any number of medications before they find one that works for them. Each of those medications has its own kind of side effect and has the potential for long-term damage. This film plays with that idea, but only as a catalyst for what the story really is.

If you’ve seen the trailer for this movie, you really haven’t seen what this movie is about. The film itself is completely different from what the advertisements made it out to be, but if the trailers were honest it would have given away several crucial plot points. At it heart, Side Effects is not a serious drama about the complications of what the drugs in our lives can do to us (even to the extremes shown), but it is instead a murder mystery. Who is murdered is best left for the audience to discover themselves, but it’s once that act happens that the movie really gets going.

It’s actually quite good that the murder changes everything because if this had been just a drama about pharmaceutical drug use, I don’t think it would have turned out as well. In the first third of the film, we focus on Rooney Mara as she battles depression with whatever medicine she can get her hands on. We see her attempts to kill herself and her attempts to cope with the feelings that she has. All this while dealing with her husband (who was imprisoned for insider trading) and her psychiatrist (who is trying to help her).

While Mara is quite good in the opening (and throughout the rest of the picture), this period of the film is actually somewhat dull. There have been plenty of similar dramas played absolutely straight and the point that “drugs are bad” seems too on the nose. However just when you are beginning to grow weary of Emily suffering another side effect of her drug use, she becomes a suspect of murder (this much is evident in the trailer). From there it becomes a taut thriller with twist after twist.

The aftermath of the change of plot means we also switch protagonists. Mara is still present, but then it becomes Jude Law’s story as he and his prescription of new drug Ablixa. Law is more than up to the task of having the story switch to him as he completely carries things from then on out. If this were released closer to awards season I’d consider his performance a contender. As it is, it’s just a really great starring role. Dr. Banks’ life is turned upside down because Emily was his patient and Law is able to show the gravity and weight of what has transpired as he tries to clear his name.

Soderbergh must just work wonders for everyone, because there really isn’t a bad performance here. Even Channing Tatum, who gets his fair share of criticism in Hollywood, comes off looking great as Martin. He doesn’t have as much to do as everyone else, but he’s good when he’s on screen. The same can be said for Catherine Zeta-Jones, playing it reserved when she has to but always with a hint of knowing more than she lets on.

The actors have a great script to work from. Scott Z. Burns, who previously wrote Soderbergh’s last thriller Contagion (another good film), knows how to write twists and suspense. It seems like just when we know what’s going on in the film, something else happens to throw us off track. Once we know as much as Law’s character does, that’s when the film gets fun as we see how he deals with this information. It will be interesting to see what Burns has planned next as he’s already built a solid resume.

There have been rumors, even from Soderbergh himself, that this would be his last film. I believe he has another one after this, but if he called it quits tomorrow, Side Effects would be a great way to end things. It’s maybe not his best-directed film ever (although there some great choices in this film), but it’s a great addition to his already prolific career. As a fan of his work, I’d much rather he went out on this than Magic Mike.

The 411: If you can make it through the dull first half-hour, Side Effects becomes a completely different movie that is both thrilling and exciting. Even that first half-hour is worth it once its revealed why and how it happened. Everyone in the cast does well but both Rooney Mara and Jude Law are phenomenal as patient and doctor. If this is to be one of Steven Soderbergh's final films, it's not a bad way to go out.
Final Score:  8.0   [ Very Good ]  legend

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Joseph Lee

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