Movie Review: Side Effects

Mar 1, 2013

It’s fun to see a film that is a carefully constructed cat-and-mouse game, particularly when the ensuing events play havoc with the plans of either the cat or the mouse or both. Hitchcock was a master of the genre, and other directors have fared well with this premise.

Such is the case with director Steven Soderbergh in Side Effects. Jude Law is a successful psychiatrist who prescribes an experimental anti-depressant for patient Rooney Mara. As you would guess from the title, things go awry for both doctor and patient and those around them. To give you more plot points would take away the joy of letting you play the guessing game as to what’s really going on, so I will refrain from writing up a bunch of spoilers… and there could be several.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Jude Law keeps getting better with each film. His performance is controlled and convincing. Rooney Mara, Oscar-nominated for her performance in the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is just fine as the depressed young woman who seeks help in getting her life back. Channing Tatum is Mara’s husband, who has just been released from prison for insider trading, and Catherine Zeta-Jones is along for the ride as Mara’s glacially composed first psychiatrist.

Side Effects has the feel of the sixties style of filmmaking, especially in European films. This could have been a Roman Polanski or Francois Truffaut film, and bears the images, cinematography, and pacing of such efforts. So, too, the music score by the amazing Thomas Newman, whose growing list of credits ranges from The Shawshank Redemption to The Horse Whisperer to Skyfall.  His talent and experience make him the perfect composer for the film.

But there’s some bad news connected with Side Effects. Director Steven Soderberg, who has been with us since his breakout 1989 debut film Sex, Lies and Videotape, has said that Side Effects will be his final film as a director. Whether he just needs a vacation, or is only seeking publicity, time will tell. It would be a shame for a man of his filmmaking abilities would walk away from a career like his. Among the films on his resume are Oscar winners Erin Brockovich and Traffic; high-profile commercial hits such as Oceans 11…and 12…and 13; and last year’s surprise hit, Magic Mike.

In between these films, he has indulged his passion for smaller independent films and documentaries. One of my favorites of his films is a remake of the Russian sci-fi think piece Solaris starring George Clooney.

So, Steven Soderberg, all I can say to you is don’t go. You will be really missed among the cinematic flotsam and jetsam that gets foisted on the movie going public every week.

And to you, moviegoers, I will say to you to make the effort to see Side Effects. It’s a trip worth taking.

The R-rated Side Effects is currently playing at most of the cineplexes around town.