‘Side Effects’ (2013) Movie Review

Rooney Mara in Side Effects
Rooney Mara in Side Effects
Photo: Open Road Films

Side Effects begins with a slow pan moving in on an apartment window reminiscent of the classic opening to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the comparison to the Master of Suspense couldn’t be more apt. Director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (Contagion) have crafted a thrilling feature that will be all the better the less you know. That being the case, don’t expect too much plot exposition from me. In fact, stop reading now and just go see the movie… that’s my recommendation.

My press screening invite came with the following notice: “Per studio directive, due to the non-linear nature of the film absolutely no press, guests, etc. will be admitted to the film once it has begun.” At the door to the theater a similar directive was laid out that went further, adding that showing up late would make your viewing of the film “unrewarding”. I told the press agent, as I walked in, this should be a standing directive for all films, but what do I know?

Like a classic Hitchock tale and ’40s noir thrillers, Side Effects is a film with something new around each and every corner, and characters as enticing as its thrilling narrative, of which to know nearly anything is to know too much. Yet, I’m willing to give you just the subtlest of hints if it means getting you into the theater to see it opening weekend.

Rooney Mara, in her first major role since starring in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, taps into a little of what made Lisbeth Salander so intriguing, but where Lisbeth’s emotions were kept largely in check, Mara’s Emily Taylor runs the gamut. Mara is asked to play anywhere from catatonic to jubilant in a role young actresses should have been crawling over one another to play. It’s a performance signaling Mara as an actress with so much more to offer than her limited filmography led us to believe. Here, she puts it all on display.

Emily’s husband (Channing Tatum) has just gotten out of jail where he spent the last four years for insider trading, and yet, for all the joy she’s feeling, a recurring bout with depression is about to set in. She finds herself a doctor, anti-depressants are prescribed and the story moves forward from there.

Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones play integral roles as doctors that have, at one time or another, treated Emily as portions of the film weigh the ethics of prescription drugs and the interests of the prescribing doctors. The rest you’ll need to learn on your own.

Soderbergh makes good use of a minimalistic score from Thomas Newman and once again serves as his own director of photography (working under the pseudonym Peter Andrews) and offers up his familiar washed out, yet pristine visuals and enticing angles, adding another level of intrigue to a truly engaging feature.

Side Effects is a film that’s only going to benefit from repeat viewings. Once it ended I could very easily have sat through it again. This is an old school kind of noir feature and one it seems only right Soderbergh direct and hopefully it will find some kind of traction with audiences and be a break out hit, though I fear the lack of ambiguity and hit-em-over-the-head plot turns may hurt its chances.

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