Saturday, 30 March 2013

Review: Steven Soderbergh's 'Side Effects'

Side Effects

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

Side Effects is a psychological thriller (an overused term I know, but bear with me) about Emily (Rooney Mara), a woman who is prescribed a new drug for depression after her husband (Channing Tatum) returns from a stint in prison, but suffers from some startling and violent side effects as a result....

I hadn't heard too much about this film prior to seeing it, strangely enough, so was happy to be in the dark while watching it and not have any judgements to go on.  I'll be honest, it starts slow. Really slow. The first scene is that of bloody footprints across the floor, which then flashes back to three weeks earlier. This does give a sense of tension, but by about halfway in you are almost so bored that you've completely forgotten about it.


This is definitely a film of two halves, because after we see the cause of the blood stains in a brilliantly stark and shocking portrayal of murder (I actually gasped out loud and shot my hand over my mouth!), Side Effects really gains pace.

The highlight of the film is the excellent soundtrack; the music is chilling, hypnotic, and almost childlike at times, perfectly enhancing Rooney Mara's vulnerable, ethereal character and the mysterious plot we see unraveling on screen. The scenes between Mara and Jude Law's psychiatrist Jonathan Banks are the best, both playing their part with subtlety as their relationship develops. Catherine Zeta-Jones is Emily's previous psychiatrist, and despite having quite a key part in terms of the plot, I think her character is a little cliche (you know, hair slicked in a bun, big glasses to look more intelligent, dodgy suits) and the more we find out about her and Emily, the less believable it gets.

There are a fair few twists as the film nears its end, which keeps you guessing and forces you to question your initial judgement of the characters and their motives throughout and is part of the reason the second half is so gripping. However, there isn't enough backstory provided for you to fully understand what's going on at times, leaving you confused, and when you do understand it all seems a bit tenuous. Channing Tatum's character Martin and his past is crucial, but you can only figure that out after thinking long and hard about it! It is entirely possible that this is the point; the less you know, the more you have to piece it together yourself, and I guess it's better than patronising the audience and having everything spelled out for you. 

I realise that paragraph is a bit baffling in itself, but it's quite difficult to talk about this film without giving away any spoilers! I'd hate to ruin it for anyone.

Overall, I came out of the cinema happy. It may take a while to get into, but is definitely worth it by the end. Steven Soderbergh, who also directed Channing Tatum in Magic Mike, has a certain voyueristic style of filming that makes you feel part of the scene and I think that's what gets you so intrigued in the story. There are good performances all round, particularly from Jude Law, who is the only character you truly empathise with as you watch his life fall apart. 

Side Effects is an interesting film that works hard to surprise you, and uses the grim subject matter of depression to create a bleak, cold mood that blends with the psychological theme. The sense of mystery around the characters is done really well, and the second half alone is a reason to watch this film.

Rating: 3/5

Thanks for reading!