FILMMovie Reviews

Side Effects

Written by Andreas Babiolakis

Final Rating: 7.9/10

Steven Soderbergh is becoming quite the prolific filmmaker. He’s no Woody Allen in terms of the vast amount of movies he makes, but he’s been releasing quite a few films recently hasn’t he? Considering he handles a lot of other duties with each film, including the cinematography, and considering that quite a few of his films range from decent to pretty damn good, I’d say Soderbergh is a rare passionate filmmaker that can almost always deliver. Side Effects is another success to add to his resumé. It works like any typical Soderbergh movie with having a star studded cast (Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta Jones and Channing Tatum) and by basing itself around some sot of social issue and concern (in this case, the movie asks if prescribed drugs are bad).

The verdict? There isn’t any. Finally, a movie that seems to try and get your brain juices going on either being against or for drugs, and while it seems to take a stance against over the counter drugs, it suddenly reveals that it was playing with you all along and even the movie is undecided. It’s very up in the air in that sense. The plot works similarly, where you think the movie is about one thing, but in reality it’s about another. Is it about dealing with depression? Is it about the bad that prescription drugs can do? Is it about manipulation? It’s about many things, and the title Side Effects is appropriate because each varied plot point affects one another like a chemical reaction, and every character gets hit by the flying debris of another’s explosion.

The acting, too, works off one another for the most part. Rooney Mara does a fantastic job as the manically depressed wife of a criminal who uses her emotions and wits to master getting the better of people, and Jude Law plays the psychiatrist that has to coax himself to fighting off his struggles. Catherine Zeta Jones may not be in the movie for too long, but she makes her short stay worth while as the shallow vixen who may not be as strong as she leads us to believe. Channing Tatum may not be in the movie for too long, and… Well, good.

Okay, to be fair, I’m sure Channing Tatum tries. He always seems like he does. He tries to break out of the pretty boy image he’s been given (well, save for Magic Mike) and he’s tried with a variety of roles where he could have been lazy and gone with the easiest character type, so I appreciate that. He still isn’t very good in most of these roles, and his performance in Side Effects is a prime example of one of his weaker roles, even. Not a single ounce of believability comes from this performance, and it’s a shame because the other three leads do quite a great job. If there’s one issue with this movie that affects all of its downsides, it’s the inconsistency, and that is especially noticeable in a film where it feeds on things acting off one another.

The pacing works the same way. It will be exciting and with your heart in your throat at times, which is great. It will then be rather sluggish, and I have no problem with a movie taking a moment to breathe, but when that moment is the start of a main character’s troublesome downfall, that just doesn’t work too well. The plot may be a bit predictable, but luckily this is when the movie is exciting so you won’t mind too much. It’s less bothersome than the slower moments, that’s for sure. The music isn’t nearly as noticeable in this sense, but it too suffers once from inconsistency. The entire movie has fantastic ambient music that looms and invades ones personal space. It’s gorgeous. Near the beginning of the movie, Mara’s character sleepwalks because of a pill she’s taken, and she starts playing blaring music. Now, this music stands out the right way, because it’s late at night and it’s supposed to bring out the bizarreness of this scene, and it does so well. The problem I have is ending off the movie with very similar music. Why on earth would you finish a movie of this nature with quite a bittersweet ending with upbeat jungle-like music? It is quite an ending impression to the movie, and not in a good way.

The cinematography, however, is beautiful the entire time. Soderbergh really works with using blurriness and particular focusing in his shots so well. It really captures the mental states of everyone in the movie, and truth be told, this, and most of the acting, is what pulled me through all of the problems of the movie. This movie is a very good one, don’t get me wrong, but it is of course my job to find out what is at fault with the movie. Is it worth watching? Undeniably. It’s the best movie of the year so far (I don’t count Zero Dark Thirty of a film of this year but of 2012 instead) despite it only being the start of the year, and that title will probably be lost eventually. But for now it has that title of being the first movie of this year that I enjoyed thoroughly. Will it end up being one of the best films of this year? I’m not sure. The problem, and the reason why I can’t give this an 8, is that its small faults end up sticking out more in my head than all of the great of this movie. Perhaps it will be different with you. Really give this movie a chance because it does try a few new tricks and it does take some risks, and it is another Soderbergh success.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.