Monday, February 11, 2013

Review: Side Effects (Adam Riske's Take)

by Adam Riske
Side Effects is worth seeing. Not by a long shot, but just barely.

If you like when a movie is “clever,” you will probably really like Side Effects. I would rather see a movie that has the courage of its own story convictions, and this is where Side Effects cops out. This is a Drama hyped up to be a Thriller. I still want to see the Drama version of this story, and the sad thing is, Side Effects is the Drama for the first 45 minutes or so. But, still, there is a lot to admire about the movie. Sound like I’m going back and forth? That’s because I am. It’s a frustrating movie. I’m very aware of its flaws, but it won’t leave my head right now. It’s a good Saturday night date movie where something more lasting should be.

My negative criticism (a substantial one) rests solely on the storyline: Side Effects starts as a medical drama and a character piece and then twists and twists and twists again. Once you stop thinking it will twist any more, there’s another twist. In the third act, there was a period of about five minutes where I had no idea what the hell was going on, and, by the end, I had a ‘how did we end up here from where we started?’ feeling. The clearest example I can recall of having this previously is The Matrix Revolutions. That is a bad thing.
This being a "pretzel" movie, I will barely cover the plot: the Taylors, Martin and Emily (Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara) are a young, upscale couple trying to get back on their feet after Martin is released from a four-year stint in prison. Outside of the pressures that causes, the situation is made worse by Emily’s struggles with depression. Emily finds her way in the care of psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), and her sessions, combined with medication, lead to troubling behavior and actions. Emily’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones, who is made up to look like a girl in a Robert Palmer video who became a doctor because there are no longer Robert Palmer videos), also factors into the plot.

Ok, now for the good: Zeta-Jones aside (who seems too vampy here), the acting here is way above the E-Quaid-Er (i.e. it is better than Dennis Quaid, thus is good and helps the movie). This is really a four character piece, with Jude Law (+1 'Buv Quaider) and Rooney Mara (+4 'Buv Quaider…the second highest Buv Quaider) factoring in the most. Channing Tatum (+2 'Buv Quaider) continues his good and deserved fortune with this movie. His role is underwritten, but Tatum is in the zone right now and he exudes a movie star presence and, dare I say, a GRRRRRRRAVITTTTAS that gives his character more weight than it would from a lesser star. I'm almost bummed by Steven Soderbergh’s promised retirement, because it means no more Tatum collaborations. Soderbergh uses him very well, arguably better than Scorsese uses Leonardo DiCaprio by comparison. Jude Law has become such a dependable actor that I often take him for granted; he can play just about anything and has grown less flashy and more at the service of the story over time.*

The real star here, though, is Rooney Mara.  It’s kind of a shock that this is the same girl from that dull-as-dishwater remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. She has grown into one of my favorite actresses because she’s really interesting. She is at times beautiful and at others gaunt; sometimes threatening and also vulnerable. Kudos to Mara for choosing to work with well-regarded directors like Soderbergh and David Fincher. This quality control will serve her well in the future. My only hope is that she mixes in some lighter performances soon, so as to avoid being typecast. I think she can do just about anything.
Soderbergh, Soderbergh, Soderbergh. I have to mention him. This is his “retirement” movie, which I don’t really believe at all, but if he says so, ok. I am a fan of his work. I don’t love all of his movies, but he has made some great ones (Out of Sight, Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven, Bubble, The Informant!) and some very good ones as well (Erin Brockovich, The Girlfriend Experience, Contagion, Magic Mike).  The best thing I can say about his work in Side Effects is that he’s such a confident, assured director that even as I was being manipulated, I was never pissed off. That is no easy trick to pull off. His photography is once again just beautiful; he really knows how to make shooting on digital look appealing. It’s nice to see upscale shot well. The score, by Thomas Newman, works well, too, when the thriller elements kick in.

Side Effects deals with themes Soderbergh has been honed into for a while (e.g. money), but I wish he didn’t go that route here. Within the movie is a really good drama about the depressed, the treatment of depression and the psychiatrists treating those people. I would have loved to have seen a director as good as Soderbergh study that in this movie. He’s got the right actress in Rooney Mara. Oh well. That is not what was made.

Go see Side Effects if for no other reason than to see some great acting shot extremely well. It won’t leave my head in the hours since I’ve seen it, but I don’t think I would leave it on if I stumbled upon it on cable in a few years.

Without spoiling, what did you think of Side Effects?

A month and change into 2013, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is my favorite movie of the year. This is a reflection of how f-ing great Hansel and Gretel is (just fun, fun, fun) and how bad 2013 has started out.

*Speaking of ‘he can play just about anything,’ I want Jude Law to star in a remake of Jaws with Jennifer Lawrence. Why? Because then you could put on a poster ‘JLAW, JLAW…JAWS!’  Ok, bad joke. Please continue to read my future columns.


  1. I want that JLAW JLAW JAWS thing to happen so bad.

  2. Well if back to the future II tells us anything right about the future we still have 15 Jaws movies to go before 2015 culminates with Jaws 19-This time its really really really personal. I still haven't seen Side Effects yet but it does seem interesting. I agree films that get so much stuff right but cant quite get everything right frustrate me a lot more than the stuff that out and out fails. Les Miserables was my ultimate frustrater of 2012 personally.

  3. Will you take the red pill of hype or refuse to take your medicine? My new-to-me movie for today, 2/18/13, is Steven Soderbergh's SIDE EFFECTS (2013) in a packed matinee theater.

    For this alleged "retirement" swan song (anyone raise their hands if they believe that... what, no takers?) Soderbergh is back into the 'psychological mind games couples play on each other' territory he explored so deftly in his 1989 breakthrough film "Sex, Lies and Videotape." A NYC-set medical procedural with thriller elements (and twisty one's at that... even M. Night Shyamalan would approve with envy that he didn't think of these plot twists first), "Side Effects" (and this is not a spoiler as much as a personal observation) becomes more a character study about the capacity of people from all walks of life to be cruel to one another (rightly or wrongly) to serve their selfish needs than the promised medical drama the first three thirds of the movie sets-up.

    I'm not happy with what happens in the last act of "Side Effects" not because it's bad or comes from nowhere but because, frankly, it seems too clever by half and beneath both the quality of how the movie was set-up at that point and the good performances by the main cast. Rooney Mara (who is doing 'pretty crazy chick' better than any other actress at the moment) and Jude Law (the only good actor in last year's re-imagining of "Anna Karenina") steal the movie in both their scenes together and on their own against an ace supporting cast, including an underused-but-effective Channing Tatum and a vampy Catherine Zeta-Jones. "Side Effects" is neither career-best or career-worse Soderbergh, just an intelligent movie for grown-ups. Being a rare commodity worth seeking out while they're still making them is the real reason why "Side Effects" is worth seeing, not because it might be Soderbergh's last.