Aneesh Chaganty

Side Effects | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on February 9, 2013 at 11:34 PM

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Side Effects

(2013, US, d. Steven Soderbergh)

The best film I’ve seen in 2013 so far, Side Effects is a confident and unsettling thriller fueled by complex and unhinged performances from its lead actors.

Side Effects is one of those films that works best the less you know about it. And as much as I enjoy people reading my reviews, this will be a rare instance where knowing even a little bit about the plot may actually lessen the experience you get out of it. I’m certainly glad I stayed away from others’ reviews of the film. But there’s my warning. Continue with your own discretion.

Side Effects tells the story of Emily Taylor (played by Rooney Mara), whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is recently released from prison on charges of insider trading. It’s difficult to pin point what exactly is tearing at Emily, but it’s clear to see that something is. And it’s doing so quite heavily.

When Martin returns to the real world and embraces his wife outside the prison gates, we are introduced to Emily at the happiest we will ever see her. Even if it’s just for a few minutes in the film, it’s a touching moment. From then on, things start to get a little weird.

Emily suffers from – what I presume to be – an extreme case of depression. We’re never told where exactly this depression comes from – whether it’s something that’s always been inside her – but the audience assumes it’s catalyzed by the years she’s been alone and without her husband. And though a few of my friends questioned whether that depression would realistically live on after her husband returned, I had no trouble believing her behaviors. This is due partly to my own intense experiences regarding the illness and partly to Mara’s earth-shatteringly impressive performance.

Mara, singlehandedly, anchors the film whilst portraying an unstable character we love to hate and hate to love. In its 105 minute running time, she’s able to take the audience on a carousel of emotions that include, but are not limited to: hate, love, pity, shock, fear, more fear, empathy, sympathy, bewilderment, sadness, and a chronic questioning of the truth. Whatever that may be.

Side Effects is an effective film that borrows a lot from Alfred Hitchcock and Roman Polanksi (particularly from the paranoia instilled in every frame of Rosemary’s Baby). However, it’s really the assured direction from Steven Soderbergh that gets the movie soaring. A fearless independent filmmaker, Soderbergh is never afraid to experiment with his shots, sound designs, narrative structures, editing styles, and even musical accompaniments to create the pervasive sense of unease, fear, and mystery that surrounds this film. In a way, it’s the perfect story to end his career with.

I’ll glaze over the plot that gets us there, but once we are introduced to psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (a nice return to form by Jude Law) and Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the movie puts the pedal to the metal and never lets go. Based on a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns, Side Effects takes more turns than any film I’ve seen in the past year. Seriously, I couldn’t count the number of times this film employed paradigm shifts and switched protagonists if I tried. We’d be here a lot longer if I even attempted to tell you how many plot twists there were.

But best of all, Side Effects makes you think. An adult thriller that doesn’t let the audience off the hook until it’s closing moments, Steven Soderbergh’s directorial “swan song” (as sad as it may be for the moment, I have a feeling he’ll be back at it in a few years) is one movie that’s worth the price of admission. Right now.

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