Still photo from Side Effects

Review: Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh is known for bringing the world his own brand of stylised, high class films. But will his latest offering Side Effects be his last? Caitlin Lupton hopes not.

Mr. Soderbergh please don’t go, or we might have to turn to Ablixa.

Considering Steven Soderbergh’s body of work we should now be used to him shocking us with his lightly veiled attacks on society. Whether under the guise of thrillers, comedies or dramas, his films are never quite what they seem.

Think about it, Magic Mike was not just an excuse to drool over lots of topless men; it introduced us to the dark, twisted and orgy-fuelled world behind male stripping. The Informant is a book adaptation that appears to be merely a quirky comedy but also takes big side-swipes at the FBI.

And, thankfully, Side Effects is no exception, with plenty of plot twists you would never expect. This is a truly Soderbergh-esqe film and one, from someone who has (ashamedly) only just truly discovered him, I can promise which adds to the list of reasons why it would be a tragedy if this was his swansong.

Rooney Mara plays Emily, a woman whose loving husband returns from prison with plans to give them the prosperous life they’ve always wanted, only to find her suddenly plagued by the depression that has hung over her for years. Channing Tatum stretches his acting muscles, holding his own amongst Academy Award winners, but not completely stepping out of his comfort zone as little more than a concerned husband.

The opening to the film is a little slow to captivate, despite a faultless and unsettling performance by Mara, but as Emily’s car plunges into a wall, we are suddenly hypnotized by the suggestive whispers that there is more to the story than first thought.

The tone swiftly darkens to show Soderbergh’s distaste for the prescription-happy culture of the American pharmaceutical industry, when Emily is prescribed Ablixa by therapist, Jude Law (who gives a solid yet slightly emotionless performance).

It’s here the film truly unfolds and begins a mesmerising display of intense performances, stunning visuals and shocking plot twists. Whilst the Ablixa fixes many of Emily’s problems, she suffers from the dangerous side effects of the drugs, and Soderbergh uses this opportunity to truly show his power to shock and haunt us with his simple but nightmarish interpretation of the human mind.

With off-centre framing of shots and lingering close ups, the audience begins to feel we are in the same sleepy, confused trance that Emily is in. As the plot continues to twist, however, we are roused and the end of this film snaps us sharply out of our innocent and dreamlike state and remind us the purpose of the story.

The performances by Mara, Law and Tatum are solid to say the least, and Catherine Zeta-Jones surprises with a sad and slightly more daring role than her usual. The cinematography is understated but stunning, the script is natural but gripping and, with Soderbergh’s direction, after a slow start the whole thing blends together magically.

The film leads you to believe you are watching a deeply disturbing crime thriller and then Sodenbergh produces an end you will not expect. What you can expect, however, is a film that won’t leave your mind for days. You don’t want to sleep through this one.


Caitlin Lupton

Side Effects is out now.

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