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Friday, February 1, 2013

Side Effects Review

Open Road Films
Side Effects Review
2013, 105 minutes
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence, and language

The fourth film in about a year and a half by prolific Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike, Contagion, Haywire), Side Effects is the best (followed closely by Magic Mike).  Starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum, Side Effects tells the story of a woman (Mara) who is prescribed a new antidepressant by her doctor (Law) after her husband (Tatum) is let out of jail.  However, the drug contains side effects.  And that is all I will tell you of the plot, as there are twists and turns that turn things upside down and inside out.

Side Effects is Soderbergh's best film since Traffic because not only is it well-shot, directed, and scripted, it is made with an energy (best on display previously in 2012's excellent Magic Mike) that kept me on the edge of my seat and completely compelled.  In addition, Side Effects is morally complex film that questions the morals of our doctors and pharmaceutical companies.  Viewing this movie will more than likely make you think twice about taking another pill or trusting your doctor.

As much as I would love to analyze this film, I repeat, I do NOT want to give any of its twists away.  If you are able to guess the ending, please tell me how you did it.  So, with that, let me tell you about each aspect of the film.

The screenplay, obviously, is brilliant.  Scott Z. Burns (Contagion and The Informant!) penned this one and it is the best of his three collaborations with Soderbergh.  Some twists would have come across as campy in the hands of a lesser director and screenwriter, but Burns and Soderbergh know what they're doing and keep some of the more outrageous aspects of this film in check.

The acting is a mixed bag.  Rooney Mara and Jude Law give impressive lead performances, while Catherine Zeta-Jones and Ann Dowd give questionable supporting performances.  Overall, the acting is good enough.

The music by the great 11-time Oscar-nominee Thomas Newman (Skyfall, WALL·E, The Shawshank Redemption) is electric.  It gives the film a similar sound to other Soderbergh films like Contagion, but is original and just a really good score.  The cinematography by Peter Andrews (aka Steven Soderbergh) is masterful.  Each shot is carefully and immaculately framed with Soderbergh's usual odd color scheme.  

Overall, Side Effects is by far one of the best early year releases, if not the best, of all time.  It is compelling, suspenseful, smart, and disturbing.  This is Steven Soderbergh's last film to be released theatrically.  Having grown up with Soderbergh's films, it is sad for me to be writing this.  Soderbergh's career is one of the most diverse and prolific careers of any director.  I always look forward to his new films (recently, one has come out every couple of months), whether they be good or bad, and it is sad that I won't be able to do that anymore.  When Soderbergh's name is on a film, I know that I will get a film unlike any other.  His films consistently manage to be smart, economical, and very entertaining, while still breaking taboos or traditions of cinema.  With his career coming to an end, cinema is losing a master; a director that changed cinema in a multitude of ways.  However, I must say that with Side Effects, Soderbergh is going out with a bang.  What a way to end a prolific, groundbreaking, and admirable career.  

(A very high) 3.5/4
-Joshua Handler

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