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Friday, February 8, 2013

Review: Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh's Paranoid Thriller Keeps You Guessing, But Is It Good?

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: February 8, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Running Time: 106 minutes
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Cast: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, 
Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

In "Side Effects," it seems like everyone's on something; antidepressants are discussed as casually as which appetizer to order for lunch.

Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) has just gotten out of prison after four years. My first thought was that someone as pretty as him couldn't have plausibly survived a day. Then he reveals his transgression: insider trading. Ah ha! That makes sense. His long-suffering wife, Emily (Rooney Mara), is there to greet him. That's a lot for one girl to take in, and it isn't long before she lapses back into some of her previous mental illness issues. Her new psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), promises to keep a close eye on her. So devoted he is that he even contacts her old shrink, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), for advice. She recommends a new drug.

At first, the film appears to be a scathing – if overly exaggerated – manifesto on the dangers of mood-altering medications and the deals doctors and psychiatrists make with "Big Pharma" to peddle these pills onto their unsuspecting patients. In one amusing scene, Banks explains to a patient that he's being paid by a pharmaceutical company to promote their new treatment – it's a "study," of course – and he wonders if she'd be interested in participating. It's free for her and she doesn't have to report it to anyone. In a similar situation, I'd find it very hard to say no too.

Then the movie takes a sharp turn, and the web keeps spinning around and around after that.

Steven Soderbergh's latest film is best described as a paranoid thriller. It's very successful in keeping you guessing. You'll almost feel like you're on medication as you try to stay one step ahead of the plot. Because of that, there's rarely a dull moment – at least at first.

It's certainly an actors' showcase. Law and Mara deliver tremendous performances as the layers of their characters are peeled back. Tatum's role isn't a flashy one, but he does a credible job. Zeta-Jones's character can be a bit cartoonish, but it's still fun to watch her work.

However, the movie doesn't entirely succeed. As revelations ultimately unfold and explanations are finally given, it all becomes a bit convoluted and illogical. Then throw in a few small scenes that are almost as trashy as "Basic Instinct"  without any of the exuberance displayed by that movie. It's a bit of a mess overall.

I enjoyed the twists and tension of "Side Effects," but as I walked out of the theater, I couldn't help but feel somewhat irritated and hollow. The movie is fun at times, but what's the point of it? 

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