Opening 25 Apr 2013
Double entendre – risqué ambiguity – permeates Side Effects: the title, the multidirectional script and multifaceted characters (Scott Z. Burns), the foreboding music (Thomas Newman), the scintillating camera and cool editing (Steven Soderbergh). The opening establishing shot zooms in and through a window onto a crime scene, and at film’s end pulls out from another pertinent window’s dismal setting. Soderbergh’s sophisticated psychological thriller, rife with disquieting subtleties, on the surface may seem a quiet film – far from that.
Rewinding three months from the opening sequence, broker Martin Taylor’s (Channing Tatum) release from prison brings relief and intensified anxiety for his wife’s fragile mental state. Emily (Rooney Mara) is unsure she is capable of reentering the moneyed high-stakes lifestyle they left behind when, to financially survive, she moved to work in New York City. Following Emily’s iffy car accident, a consultation with the hospital’s on-duty psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), evolves to regular appointments. Martin and mom (Ann Dowd) are supportive; Emily agrees to Banks’ contacting the psychiatrist she saw in Connecticut after Martin’s arrest; concerned, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is forthcoming. Attempting to stabilize Emily’s condition, Dr Banks prescribes psychotropic medications that produce devious results. Plot intricacies lead us into a labyrinth of subterfuge resolved only through Banks’ clever counter-offensive.
The beauty here is understatement fuels suspenseful dread; without missing a beat, the corkscrewing plot and characters – excellently portrayed with restraint by these seasoned thespians—keep us off keel. We are never quite sure where we are being led until the camera pulls out at film’s end, when all the pieces fall into place. Supposedly protean director Steven Soderbergh’s cinema swan song – albeit he will direct for theatre, TV series, etc. – the finesse and intellectual delivery could, I imagine, make this a “must see” for future film students. With pharmaceutical companies, drugs prescription, lobbyists, and lawyers rampant, the film’s ethical questions argue for dialogue exchange to boot. (Marinell Haegelin)