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Movie Reviews

Side Effects

Side Effects

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Neil Pond
American Profile
March 13, 2013
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Starring Rooney Mara

& Jude Law

Directed by Stephen Soderbergh

R, 106 min.

“Side effects may include...” We’ve all heard the barrage of patter at the end of TV commercials, and seen the teeny print in magazine ads, detailing the litany of often-unpleasant things that might happen---other than the intended results---by using various pharmaceutical products.

Now a movie takes that idea and runs with it---and you’d better hold on. It’s a twisty, turn-y ride that starts out with one story, becomes another midway through, and adds some other juicy, jarring jolts along the way.

It’s difficult to describe much about “Side Effects” without spoiling it by spilling too much light into the deliciously dark corners, but this crackling psychological thriller stars Rooney (“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”) Mara as a young Manhattan-ite, Emily, whose husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), has just been released as the movie begins from a four-year prison term for insider trading.

The couple’s reunion isn’t as joyous as they’d like, however. Emily, with a prior history of depression, returns to a frail, possibly suicidal state as Martin talks excitedly about regaining his financial high ground. Deliberately crashing her car into a concrete wall in her apartment’s parking garage puts her under the care of hospital psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who treats her with anti-depressants to “stop the brain from telling you you’re sad.”

One of the side effects of the (fictional) anti-depressant Dr. Banks prescribes for Emily is sleepwalking.

But let’s back up a few scenes: We already know, from the movie’s opening, that’s there’s been a murder. We just don’t know who’s been murdered or who did it. Once the movie gets going, though, the pathway to the crime becomes pretty obvious, pretty early. Then the dastardly deed actually occurs, and we see it happen.

But perhaps all is not as it appears---and the movie then shifts into its slippery second act.

Director Stephen Soderbergh, whose resume is packed with more than two dozen feature films, including the “Ocean’s Eleven” franchise, “Traffic,” “Contagion” and “Erin Brockovich,” masterfully crafts a complex, shades-of-Hitchcock tale that’s actually two movies in one, both of them playing off each other in smart, surprising ways. His camera hovers, circles and swirls around his characters, as if it, like the audience, is sizing them up, trying to figure out who they really are: criminals, victims, someone caught in the middle, or something else entirely?

Catherine Zeta-Jones has a pivotal role as another psychiatrist with a mysterious connection to Emily’s past.

You’ll want to pay attention to soak up all the details; how, for instance, the opening and closing zoom shots, into and out of windows in different New York high-rise buildings, are reverses of each other; the exit signs that keep showing up in shots with Emily, in the first half of the movie, as she seeks a “way out” of her unhappiness; the way Soderbergh (who’s also his own cinematographer, working under the name of Peter Andrews, his father) shoots everything in muted, almost monochromatic shades of light, suggesting the drab, depressed fog inside Emily’s head.

It hasn’t exactly been a blockbuster at the box office, suggesting that many viewers are opting to plop down their ticket money for sunnier, splashier, less complicated fare. But for anyone who might like a real pill of a movie that packs a serious one-two punch as a detective drama coupled with a cautionary tale about the dangers of trying to pharma-cate our troubles away, all spiced with a zesty pinch of dirty money, steamy desire and dastardly double-crosses thrown in for seasoning... “Side Effects” could be just what the doctor ordered!

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