By Dirk Sonniksen | February 8, 2013
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns (screenplay)
Starring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones
What better way to start the new year than with a juicy pharmaceutical thriller. Yes indeed, Steven Soderbergh is back and he’s traded in the assless chaps of Magic Mike for Ablixa, the new wonder med that will have you up and smiling in no time — unless you’re Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara). Emily’s got the blues ’cause her man has gone away. Even when Emily is reunited with the handsome Martin (Channing Tatum), she still can’t shake them blues! Enter Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a smooth-talking shrink with great bedside manner and a script pad…and a pen. Jonathan is hopeful he can cure Emily of the doldrums, but it’s not that simple! Everything and everyone is falling apart! What is the cause? Who’s the bad guy? How will it end? No, I will not insert spoiler here.
With all the above exclamation points and question marks, you might think this is a great movie. Well, it is a great movie! Side Effects is a thriller that, in the wrong hands, could have easily ended up as one of those instant streaming stinkers, but Soderbergh manages to push it along at a fast clip, bypassing the formulaic starts and stops that criple many in this genre. To elaborate a bit, there’s very little gristle on Side Effects; no extended bedroom scenes with long talks after sex or long-winded monlogues that require a drool cup. No, it’s just cinematic fun with good guys against bad guys, and yes, it is actually a bit of a challenge to differentiate between the two at times — a novel idea.
But Soderbergh doesn’t get all the credit. The casting is superb (Superb I tell you!) with Rooney Mara giving a steady, almost underplayed performance as the quasi-crazy woman. Channing Tatum, who is now apparently one of Soderbergh’s go-to actors, works the screen with the usual subtle bravado that has made him a mainstay in the film biz. Jude Law never really strays far from his comfort zone and is somewhat predictable, but Law has that smooth British thing down to a science, and he does predictable so damn well! Catherine Zeta-Jones appears to have survived the dismal showing of Rock of Ages, and Lay the Favorite, and Playing for Keeps…and she picked a great movie!
As for cinematic style, Side Effects is a bit slick for my taste (it bugs me when shots are just too pretty), although I’m guessing the super-crisp cinematography was deemed necessary for characters and locations dripping with affluence, or perhaps I live in squalor and I am simply not accustomed to such finery. Fortunately, the film came with a good script and a good cast, so I spent most of my time immersed in the story and not picking apart the lighting or set designs. I do appreciate that Soderbergh goes easy on the aforementioned drawn out scenes and monologues and typically gives his films room to breathe.
Not since 2009’s The Informant! have I been so pleased with one of Soderbergh’s films, and while I don’t love every film he makes, I do acknowledge his ability to cover so much creative ground. Side Effects packs a punch and it’s a fun film that should keeep audiences on the edge of their seats, chewing their lapels, biting their nails, or whatever it is one does when the adrenaline begins pumping.