Side Effects (2013) is a neatly woven, macabre and psychological masterpiece of a film. It truly redefines what a ‘twist’ is and when it’s appropriate to use one, offering a very harrowing and unpredictable narrative journey. It’s the penultimate film from the apparently retiring director Steven Soderberg starring Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. I haven’t had a lot of experience with Soderberg’s films prior to this one, but judging from it he has a very honed directorial style. Side Effects is intensely directed with some incredibly morose emotion emitting from everyone of it’s main characters, except for the ever dull phoned in performance from one Channing Tatum. The score, the incredibly gentle elements of manipulation in addition to it’s marginal directorial style, and very tight script make Side Effects a Hitchcock-esque masterpiece of a film, one that is not to be taken lightly.
The story entails Emily (Rooney Mara) a woman depressed as when her husband (Channing Tatum) is finally released from prison, she’s not as happy as she hoped. She drives her car straight into a wall, out of compulsion in a need to hurt herself. A doctor at the ward becomes concerned about her and starts to treat her. Dr.Banks (Jude Law) is a very warm doctor, who takes his career very seriously. He tries numerous medications in order to try and normalize her with little success. From a suggestion of her former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones) he tries brand new anti-depressant Aflixa. The side effects are disastrous as she sleepwalks about her apartment. Her partner approaches her in a bizarre subconscious as catastrophe happens. Dr.Bank’s careers is on a line as he burrows to the bottom of a dark and unlikely conspiracy.
The story pacing in Side Effects is incredibly well paced, with each plot-point being masterfully placed upon the film’s narrative framework like notes on a fine orchestral score. The story unfolds at exactly the right tempo as we see Dr.Banks lose more and more of himself, almost mimicking the same symptoms he was trying to cure. The tension and suspense is almost tangible as we delve deeper into the plot’s inner crux. A word often used to describe Side Effects is ‘Hitchcockian’, many saw it as an homage to the great master of suspense in it’s style and narrative structure. Soderberg is often known for his ‘almost documentary’ style. More specifically, as the audience we feel less engaged in the plot as if we know the characters, and take on the role of the spectator, to deduct and investigate in order to find our own probable solution to the film’s conundrum.
The lighting and contrast in the film is quite dull, grey and bland and at times quite yellow. It gives the image an off-putting almost clinical feel, and the deep sepia tones in my mind relates to ideas of illness, and off-colour skin like kidney failure. Even the minor details in Side Effects build to the overall affect and motif which creates this wonderful textured feel.
The characters and performances were mostly fantastic. Jude Law played a brilliant duality in his character, one of the warm doctor, the enthusiastic family man. But then there’s also the distressed doctor about to lose his career, with qualms about abusing his power and the situation to his advantage. Also the film does a good job of making us question him, particularly about this mysterious ex-patient who killed her self, that seemed to mostly be a red herring. Rooney Mara is outstanding in Side Effects. She further cements herself as this sadistic and neurotic leading woman, with sexually charged undertones. She plays the damaged but misleading damsel in distress so well, and is becoming one of Hollywood’s best leading women, in my eyes at least. Catherine Zeta-Jones also does a good job, playing the lusty and seemingly inconspicuous former doctor. Channing Tatum is completely forgettable, I don’t really understand why he’s an actor, or people cast him.
Even the duality of the Film’s title is one to be admired, the concept matter of pills and medication, but also the side effect of Dr.Banks career being mostly left to shambles. Side Effects has everything and can certainly appeal to a wide audience. It has a gripping and tense story for the casual film-goers, and very technical and nurtured cinematography and aesthetics for those more academically inclined. Though received well by critics the film made a fairly dull splash in terms of profit. Regardless if you haven’t seen Side Effects, do. You won’t be disappointed.