Sunday, March 10, 2013

Side Effects include Frustration, Apathy, and Inconsistency.

Movie Review: Side Effects

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Reviewed: 9 March 2013

jamesintexas rating--**1/2

In his newest film "Side Effects," director Steven Soderbergh depicts a world run amuck by greedy pharmaceutical companies, a populace heavily medicated by a litany of unpronounceable drugs, and the dangerous synergy of business and medicine in a modern film noir-horror film. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara, sans Lisbeth Salander's edginess) opens the film as the stalwart wife of a jailed inside trader, Martin (Channing Tatum).  Emily is a fragile woman prone to depression, and a recent patient of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).  Dr. Banks has the perfect life, practice, family, and professional career, all ripe for a fall.  A drug prescribed by Dr. Banks may have led to a disastrous crime with far-reaching consequences.

What begins as a potential psychological study, complete with Soderberghian colored lenses, oblique angles, and dazzling camera work shifts midway through into a more conventionally shot crime thriller, complete with big reveals.  I enjoyed the rug being pulled out from under me; for half of the movie, I was thinking it was one thing, and then it was another.  Mara and Law are fine here, though Law's performance seems edited in a way to make Dr. Banks's spiral out of control less believable and less emotionally powerful.

Soderbergh seems to have things to say about our modern age, the New York City high-end world of self-medication, and the melding of profit and medicine.  But why doesn't the film work as well as it should?  Soderbergh's style, a detachment from the characters, an icy remove, lingers over the film.  The mystery may be teased out more than intricately explained, and some characters' behavior just radically shifts without warning.  The film offers diminishing returns; the longer it goes on, the less powerful and interesting it is.  I think the innovative camera work disappears as the film progresses.  I see Soderbergh working here in the vein of the classic noir "Double Indemnity," but perhaps his cast just cannot pull it off?  Law's panic never seems believable, so the stakes remain low.

Medicines dominate our television screens with their quick solutions for complex problems, and the world of prescribing drugs is rife with corruption and collusion.  Soderbergh's ending, though entertaining, is troubling in its positing of the hero.  There are no heroes in this film.  I sincerely hope that this is not Steve Soderbergh's last film.  From "Traffic" to "Out of Sight", from "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" to "Magic Mike," Soderbergh's work endures as some of the most interesting, well-cast, and artful of our era.  It would be a shame to see him go out with "Side Effects."

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