Review: Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh is no stranger to the thriller genre, having delivered the wonderfully eerie Contagion back in 2011. Two years later, and after the director announced his directing sabbatical, he has provided cinemagoers with 2013’s strongest thriller yet, Side Effects.

Having proved her worth in David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Rooney Mara returns with yet another provocative thriller, focusing on the grisly events which befall a successful New York couple. Mara plays Emily, a young woman dealing with severe depression and anxiety issues. Even after the release of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum), things just aren’t improving for them.

To tackle this issue head on, Emily meets renowned psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes her a new treatment of antidepressants. Of course, these new drugs come with some unexpected, ghastly side effects.

Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, The Bourne Ultimatum) delivers a script which is rich with ‘Hitchcockian’ motifs throughout. It’s a psychological, sexy thriller, which will keep viewers guessing with every turn. It’s an undoubtedly smart script, with a finale that rivals most thriller endings in recent history.

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One of the many strengths behind Side Effects is the stellar casting choices, especially concerning Rooney Mara’s lead role as Emily. Yet again, the young actress proves her worth in a genre which she is perfect for, as she plays the slightly mysterious and deeply troubled Emily, whose life is unfortunately turned upside down in a radical way.

Somehow, Mara effortlessly portrays the character of Emily by acting like the scared and vulnerable protagonist of the movie, when really – she’s essentially the scariest character in the film. It’s an unusual combo that works wonders, and plays off well against the other characters.

Channing Tatum’s role as Martin is a somewhat sympathetic one, who only has Emily’s best interests at heart. It’s great to see Tatum land such a role (albeit it be a smaller one), but these past two years have seen the actor procuring some great roles, and this film is no exception. Tatum typically oozes with charisma, and he’s a great choice as Emily’s partner.

Previously appearing in Soderbergh’s fantastic Contagion, Jude Law returns as the amicable psychiatrist, Jonathan Banks. A highly successful shrink, Banks’ life is soon embroiled in a huge mess, which he may not recover from. Jude Law has always been a capable actor, and he shines in this movie. His role is just as important as Mara’s, and it’s a pleasure to see Jude Law in yet another fantastic lead role.

The cinematography used in Side Effects is astounding, which comes as no surprise from Soderbergh, whose previous work on Magic Mike and Contagion has provided some wonderfully framed shots. It is the director’s obsession with digital cameras that provides the great cinematography in the movie, with the use of the RED Epic camera. Specific scenes have been filmed from unique angles, and they’re put together without the hassle – hence why Soderbergh’s a fan.

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Some scenes are completely jarring, no matter where they take place. As Emily and Martin attend a formal event, Emily briefly catches her reflection, which presents a distorted vision of herself. It’s here when it begins to imply that her psyche is fractured, that it is clearly distorted by her medication. These small implications are prevalent throughout and they’re brought to the attention of the viewer with some wonderful composition.

The climactic moment of the movie may come as quite a shock to most viewers, and it’s handled brilliantly. It is set up beautifully, and the repercussions and brutal reveal towards the end of the movie will be a major talking point for audiences.

The entire story is compelling from start to finish, and it is aided by a typically eerie soundtrack by renowned composer Thomas Newman (Skyfall, Shawshank Redemption). He provides a haunting and mysterious soundtrack, which is perfect for the tone of the movie. It’s somewhat similar to Contagion’s soundtrack, which also provides a disconcerting unnerving feel throughout.

Side Effects plays upon the normal horrors some viewers may encounter every day, such as sleepwalking, mental health and the dangers of medication. That’s what helps make it such a compelling and disturbing thriller, as real life issues are tackled. Add in a bit of sex, lies and videotape into that mix, and you’ve got yourself the perfect formula for a thriller.

If this is to be one of Steven Soderbergh’s last films, then the director has left us with a great swan song. Side Effects is the best thriller of 2013 to date, with fantastic cinematography, some interesting ideas and an ending like none other. Rooney Mara brings it her all, captivating audiences yet again, alongside an incredible cast.

What’s next for Soderbergh? Well, the director has mentioned he will continue his love of painting, and that his return to film-making is indefinite. Please Soderbergh, don’t disappear for too long.

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