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Soderberg's Side Effects Well-Crafted Cat and Mouse Game

Side Effects could have been a great thriller. Soderberg is a respected and talented director. Slow pacing and some obvious outcomes affects just how many side effects were not listed on the bottle.

 

SYNOPSIS:  Emily and Martin are a successful New York couple whose world unravels when a new drug prescribed by Emily's psychiatrist - intended to treat anxiety - has unexpected side effects.

REVIEW: Steven Soderbergh has been been busy lately. He directed Contagion and Haywire in 2011, Magic Mike in 2012, and now Side Effects to start the new year.Contagion writer Steve Z. Burns reteams with Soderbergh, looking to recreate the tension they created two years ago. 

Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, Rise of the Guardians) works long hours at the hospital, sees numerous patients at his own practice, and participates in pharmaceutical studies - all in an effort to keep his wife and stepson living a comfortable lifestyle. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara, Prometheus) waits for her husband Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum,Magic Mike) to be release from prison where he was incarcerated for four years for insider trading. Upon his release, Emily keeps a brave face but finds herself struggling to keep her emotions in check and her mental health balanced. After she runs her car into a parking garage concrete wall, Emily is visited by Dr. Banks as a psych consult. Released from the hospital, Emily starts to see Dr. Banks as a patient. After consulting Emily's previous psychiatrist Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Broken City), Dr. Banks prescribes Abrixa as a medication to fight her depression. After continued treatment, Emily is worse off than before, causing a sleepwalking incident that puts her in the psych ward again. As Dr. Banks reputation and personal life come into question, and his life starts to unravel, Dr. Banks takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of Emily and her strange surreal life.

Steven Soderberg brings another one of his stylize and cinematic films, akin to Contagionand Traffic, to screen. He uses his signature lighting, and alternating warm and cool tones to tell the story just as engaging as any of the plot points. Scott Z. Burns' story is slow and steady, setting up for a more interesting third act. The slow pace of the film allows director Soderberg to use his visual craft to build the story. With a movie of this type, it is important to build a proper foundation. Law, Mara, Zeta-Jones, and Tatum help to build those blocks, but the story suffers due to unnecessary waiting. Jude Law shows why he is such an exceptional actor. Rooney Mara, fresh off the Prometheus and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo also shows her ability as an acting chameleon. The character of Emily is the most crucial to the success of the story, and Mara does a superb job getting the job done. 

The halfway point of the film is where the pace picks up and when the film become worthwhile. As Dr. Banks life unravels, his practice folds, and his marriage suffers, Jonathan finds himself on the wrong end of life's diagnosis. Not all the pieces fit and not all the results seem likely, but yet he finds that he is on the declining slope of a downward spiral. The thought of losing control of one's faculties brings uncertainty to where both Emily and Dr. Banks may end up, and keeps up the intrigue.

Dr. Jonathan Banks answers a question from an inquiring party as to why he practices psychiatry in United States versus the UK. He replies that citizens of the United Kingdom feel that psychiatry and psychiatric medicines is for people who are sick and that Americans believe psychiatry and psychiatric medicine is for people looking to get better. That statement reveals much of the practice of pharmaceutical trials, patients going to numerous doctors, and the combination of old and new marketed drugs assisting in mental recovery. All points to a mental health industry that isn't looking to make anybody better but instead wanting to line pockets. So is it any wonder that Rooney Mara's Emily may or may not succeed in beating the charges against her even with her history of mental instability.

With a long set up and careful crafting of the necessary pieces of the puzzle, Side Effects is a movie that is well-done and well-crafted, but needed to get the audience engaged with a faster pace. The direction is good, the acting is top-notch, and the overall story is solid. With any mystery of this type the success or failure of the film based on quick set up and an intriguing investigation. The cat and mouse game between the major characters is the best part of the film.

Side Effects could have been a great thriller. Soderberg is a respected and talented director. The cast is exceptional. But slow pacing and some obvious outcomes affects just how many side effects were not listed on the bottle.

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5 | Rental

Rated: R Sexuality, nudity, violence and language.

Release Date: February 8, 2013

Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Scott Z. Burns

Cast: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones

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