Thriller Showcases Soderbergh's Skills
Published: Friday, February 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 20:02
Gracing movie credits for the third time, the dynamic duo of Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns shows how it can masterfully fool and baffle audiences with their matchlessly crafted, puzzle-box story in the gripping psychological thriller Side Effects.
Side Effects dives right into suspense with an opening scene playing oddly riveting xylophone music, its piercing sounds giving the audience chills and goosebumps. The story revolves around a withdrawn young married woman, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), who suffers from an anxiety disorder. She is expecting the return of her recently imprisoned husband, Martin (Channing Tatum). The two attempt to rekindle their romance but find both social and sexual difficulties as they adjust to married life after Martin’s four-year absence and public defamation.
Although her husband is back in her life, Emily continues to suffer from mental illness, with suicidal thoughts leading her to regularly visit her psychiatrist, Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who consults with her former psychiatrist, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and treats her with several prescription anti-depressants that include the common side effects of fatigue, mood swings and decreased libido.
However, the story takes a nosedive into dangerous waters when Emily is prescribed a new drug for her depression. After only a couple of days, Emily suffers from severe sleepwalking that causes her to commit murder, prompting an investigation and a criminal trial. The remaining story contains Banks’ insistent inquiry of Emily’s condition. Side Effects places a classic murder mystery in the controversial gray areas of unconscious behavior produced by the side effects of Emily’s anti-depressants.
Soderbergh exhibits his natural prowess in shooting multiple convoluted stories with impressively well-timed pacing and a natural flow of enthralling plot twists — a dexterity not extended toward the average Hollywood director. Throughout the film, Soderbergh shoots many purposely shaky, quick clips that focus and zoom in on pill bottles and pharmaceutical labels — not only adding to the suspenseful nature of the Emily’s condition but also communicating the important message of the caution of our continuing reliance on pharmaceuticals and belief that pills are a cure-all solution.
The ensemble includes a star-studded cast, many of whom are Soderbergh-experienced actors whose investment into their character’s raw emotions truly show the actors’ artistic vitalities and uniqueness. Despite the occasional situational humor, the only other comic relief of the film was watching Tatum trying to playing his part. His acting fails to compare to Zeta-Jones, Law and the refined flawlessness of Mara’s poignant and authentic performance. Once again, she dazzles us like she did in her Oscar-nominated role in The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and disturbs us with her composed facial expressions and bluntly clipped dialogue. Despite its theatricalities, Side Effects touches on the larger concept of the dangers our fractured U.S. healthcare system poses and our dependence on materialism. Whether it be the resounding messages of a general lack of patient knowledge, the adverse effects of pharmaceutics or the skyrocketing malpractice litigation, Soderbergh’s Side Effects will have you guessing and re-guessing the possible theories behind the events of this frighteningly realistic, mind-bending thriller.