The Monocle – “Side Effects”

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Released: February 8th, 2013
Theatre watched at: AMC Century City, Los Angeles

I’m a huge Steven Soderbergh fan. You could never guess the unbelievably saddening amount of times I’ve watched Ocean’s Eleven with repeated watches in one sitting for pure pleasure–it is still one of my all-time favorite films (clearly). Embarrassments aside,  if there is one thing you can count on having in a Soderbergh film it’s style, and it’s never compromised on the genre he decides to tackle next. His previous film Magic Mike (2012) is a comedy drama that centers around male strippers, while his current outing Side Effects is a Hitchcock-ian (yes I did just make that up) psychological thriller that targets pharmaceutical drugs…because you know, that’s obviously the next step after humorous strippers. Oh, I’m just teasing, Mr. Soderbergh. In fact, the execution with which he is able to blend his unique style into a number of completely different genres is what makes him one of the most talented and inspirational directors of our time, not to mention nearly every one of his movies is critically favored. I’m happy to report that Side Effects slides nicely into Soderbergh’s line of successes.

Although the film’s major plot twist ultimately brings an otherwise excellently engaging film slightly down into the valley of the implausible, and worse, predictable, this flaw is largely overshadowed by stylish cinematography, precise pacing and editing, and strong performances by Jude Law and Rooney Mara, making Side Effects the first great film of 2013 as well as Soderbergh’s stamp of approval to provide us with more psycho-thriller excursions. One of the film’s most intriguing aspects is its subject matter of pharmaceutical drugs and the silently imbedded political underpinnings that follow their abuse. The story follows Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) who is suffering from depression after her husband Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) goes to jail. Oddly enough, after Martin is released, Emily’s depression worsens into suicidal episodes, and so she seeks the help of psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who assists her depression by putting her on a number of prescription pills of varying affect. Just when Emily finds solace in a drug called Ablixa, she ends up “accidentally” stabbing Martin to death with no apparent recollection of having being actually conscious of doing it. Her situation is taken to court and she attributes her behavior to her medicine using it as an alibi to keep her from going to prison while Jonathan begins to feel the deteriorating relapse of having been the doctor enabling Emily to take Ablixa. As Jonathan’s entire life starts to collapse through the twists and turns of his past and present haunting him, he is forced to confront the situation head on to try and prove that there may be something else going on at hand before he too becomes a victim of pharmaceutical drug treatment.

Everyone in play in this film is absolutely wonderful, from the chilling Rooney Mara who is so relaxed playing a woman who is in constant attitude shifts, she adds a piercing ease to Emily that allows her earnestness to seem natural as well completely illegible; Mara is destined to be an acting powerhouse in the near future. Jude Law is also in good form as we follow his character into the rising abyss; even as Jonathan begins to seemingly to display questionable mental stability, Law is able to keep a steady presence of innocents that allows us to sympathize with him the entire way through, which makes for much of the film’s addictiveness. Catherine Zeta-Jones is also great playing a Emily’s former psychiatrist while, to my surprise, Channing Tatum does an adequate job of playing Martin Taylor! In all fairness, he was showing signs of improvement in Magic Mike, but seeing as this is a far more serious discourse, not once did he make me laugh when he wasn’t supposed to. That being said, I can’t wait for his next works in G.I. Joe: Retaliation and White House Down later this year *smh*.

I believe the true star of the show here however is Soderbergh. It’s quite honestly unfathomable how he’s able to take his signature style and place it so comfortably into every film he produces. If you are unaware of exactly what style I have been referring to, Soderbergh’s visual preference is that of a certain restrained mixed-martial arts. Sophisticated description, I know, but what I mean by this is that he’ll take classic conventions of cinematography theory (i.e. zooming, off-axis angularity, panning, etc.) and execute them so stripped down in form, you get a mix of inherent style with a forced reality perspective. He’s like a merging of Tarantino technique with a Fincher tonality (generally speaking), while Side Effects now adds Hitchcock-ian (there’s that word again) heart to the brew. As a side note, if you’re wondering if the project guy at the theatre must have a filter in front of the lens because the entire film looks a tad green, don’t worry, it’s suppose to look like that…style! From beginning to end the film is in progressive tightening of its grasp on your mind; the build-up is slow but there is a constant bombardment of seemingly plot changing points and then reversals that it’s enough to make you wonder if you yourself have the whole thing wrong. As you seamlessly move your sympathies for Emily in the beginning to Jonathan later on, you begin to wonder who to cheer for once the twists begin to emerge, that is the mark of true craftsmanship.

Go see this film. It’s an extremely well done piece of work that is sure to give to give you genuine thrills even if you’re just looking for entertainment. Although it may be easy to start thinking extremely hard about its subject matter of the moralistic and political issues with pharmaceutical drugs, trust me, don’t read too far into that with this film or you may just find yourself feeling shorthanded at the end. It’s meant to be a thriller with an amazing story to tell but nothing you should write as gospel. Soderbergh still in top form! I’m glad to hear it! Until next time my Deer friends!

Bow Tie Approved

Bow Tie Score - 4.0