16 March 2013

Review: Side Effects

(Dir: Steven Soderbergh, 2013)

It's disappointing to hear good, interesting directors decide they're giving up the trade. Such is the position of Steven Soderbergh, who having been in the business for over twenty years has decided to call it quits. What's most disheartening about such news is that he's a prolific, genuinely interesting director. Look at 2012 - we got Haywire, a slightly off-kilter action film with a debutante female lead (such is his style), and a film exploring the modern male condition and our current economic climate, filtered through the world of male strippers - Magic Mike. And not forgetting Contagion, the bio-med drama that appeared mere months before those in Autumn 2011. Prolific might be an understatement, yet all are at the very least good films. So here we are in early 2013 looking at what is purported to be his final feature, Side Effects.

As ever with Soderbergh's films it's a story with a certain amount of depth, appearing to be about Emily (Rooney Mara) and her tragic and debilitating fight with depression and the impact caused by profiteering drug companies and the doctors who, for whatever reason, prescribe these drugs. Or so it seems - there are a lot of different angles being played here.

As with Magic Mike, Side Effects has things to say about our current economic condition, for better or worse, as seen through the money drug companies have to play with and how they influence doctors, and even how important this can be to the doctors financially. Or via Emily's husband, played by Channing Tatum, who despite being convicted of insider trading is desperate to maintain a lifestyle they once had. One of the primary characters is psychologist Jonathan, played by Jude Law, who is left in a difficult position thanks to what he has prescribed. How much should he be to blame for what happens as a result? There's a great line in the film about how psychologists only have past behaviour to go on, but really how true an indicator can that actually be when thinking about someone with a challenged mental state? Makes you wonder if being someone who can prescribe drugs in a country so incensed to litigate is such a good idea.

Law isn't bad in the role. He's never been an amazing actor but he's likeable here if unremarkable. Fortunately he doesn't try for a dodgy accent again - bad memories of the last time he teamed with Soderbergh in Contagion! Mara on the other hand is extremely good, doing a great job of reminding us why she was Oscar nominated for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Her character seems lost at sea in a perpetual fog, desperately uncertain with what's going on in her life and how to maintain control. Again she's a compelling actress to watch, partly because there always seems to be something beneath the surface; she conveys an intriguing depth and is the best thing about the film. Most revealing is how she she makes a seasoned actress like Catherine Zeta Jones, who also appears as a psychologist, feel like such a bland actress comparatively despite being fine in her role.

Side Effects fits very nicely into Soderbergh's stark, clean, modern look and feel. Many of his recent films have taken on this appearance and there's something cooly satisfying about it. Yet again he makes great use of music with an interesting score - maybe it was the presence of Mara but a Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross score, à la The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, wouldn't have seemed out of place here. Side Effects is a very good thriller with an interesting story, no matter which level you look at it from. If this is to be Soderbergh's feature swansong then it's a decent way to go out, whilst inevitably leaving us to lament his decision. And I'm now highly intrigued about how interesting further team ups between Soderbergh and Mara could've been.

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