Film: ‘Side Effects’ is a Recommended Prescription

By Will Ashton |
Side Effects | Directed by Steven Soderbergh | Rated R
RATING: 3.5/5


Side Effects may be the last time the words “Directed by Steven Soderbergh” appear on the big screen. This is not a statement of the quality of the film.

A couple years ago, around the time his film Contagion was being released into theaters, the director announced that he would be making his last batch of films before retiring from the business by the time he was 50. These last few films included Haywire, Magic Mike, the upcoming Behind the Candelabra for HBO, and now Side Effects.

If things go according to plan, Behind the Candelabra will be his last official movie and Side Effects will be his last theatrical outing as Soderbergh moves on to pursue a career in painting, theater directing, and possibly television directing. Whether or not he will return to filmmaking is anyone’s guess, but if this is truly the last time that he directs a theatrical feature film, then, I believe, we will be losing on the most versatile and talented directors we have in Hollywood today.

With that said, if Side Effects is the end, then Soderbergh is ending his theatrical run strong.

The film follows Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a depressed 28-year-old New Yorker who struggles to deal with the daily pressures of her illness. Under the guidance of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), Emily begins to delve into a variety of different prescription medications. But it’s not until she falls under the dosage of the new antidepressant Ablixa that she notices any positive changes in her psyche. But as she continues to take the drug, she, and the other people around her, begin to notice different changes and complexities to her personality.

I decided that it’s best to only give away most of this film’s plot. What I just described is, roughly, only about the first 20-30 minutes of the plot. Generally, I don’t give anything more than half of the plot in my reviews, but the point I want to make here is that there is way more to the story here than I just gave you. Believe me when I say, the least you know about the film beforehand the better.

Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (Contagion), once again, are able to bring to the table a smart, well paced, and taut pseudo-thriller that plays well to mature audiences. While this film doesn’t have the same budget as Contagion, the film is still able to bring about another stylish and compelling thriller to the screen. But Side Effects is, above all else, a very Hitchcockian drama/thriller that relies on its strong twists and unnerve to keep the audience engaged. There are no big shootouts or explosions, but as the plot thickens, you’ll find yourself just as engaged as you would be during a summer action flick.

Unlike most films, the movie is at its strongest during the middle. The beginning, while still well shot and well acted, occasionally comes across as uninspired and the end suffers from a couple twists and turns that are a little too far fetched to swallow (no pun intended). Without giving anything away, it seems like the complexities and plot developments that take place during this part are what fascinated the director the most to the project-and it shows. These parts are what come across as the pulse of the film, the heart of where the movie truly gathers up its heartbeat and rhythm.

Coming off of her Oscar-nominated performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Mara once again gives another strong lead performance and continues to show her depth and talent as an actress. I worry that she’ll start getting type-casted, but now she seems to be on a good roll. Additionally, Law pulls in a strong lead performance as well. And, even though some people may still want to dismiss him, Channing Tatum does a pretty good job here too.

Throughout his career, Soderbergh has provided a pretty strong resume. While he does have the occasional miss, in my opinion (Full Frontal, Ocean’s Twelve, The Girlfriend Experience), I applaud the filmmaker for always wanting to try something new and different with each film. If this is truly the last film that he’ll make in theaters, then I believe he ended things with a bang. He has created a stylish, well-crafted psycho-thriller that, while not as strong as some of his other films, demonstrates his talents for character-driven plots and well-versed cinematography and plotting.


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