“Side Effects” Bleeds Tension

By Brian Duskey

February 19, 2013

Sometimes a film is so stellar that you cease becoming an audience member, and instead become a slave to its prowess. [caption id="attachment_16002" align="alignleft" width="150"]*Photo courtesy of imdb.com *Photo courtesy of imdb.com[/caption] This is exactly what happened with Steven Soderbergh’s latest film “Side Effects.” This mysterious thriller isn’t a perfect film. It has some script issues and it starts slow, but once it gets a hold of you, it never lets go. The main storyline of the film follows a young Emily (Rooney Mara) who has been prescribed to antidepressants by her new psychiatrist, Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). After she goes on the controversial drug, she begins to experience some “side effects” that include even more severe depression, anxiety, and violent behavior. The rest of the film is a high-intensity thriller between all of the characters. Dr. Banks is dealing with pressure from lawyers and criticism from his colleagues, while Emily and her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) are constantly trying to deal with the side effects that she is experiencing. You might notice a slight scent of greed with Martin, as he begins to believe that whoever made this drug is going to be a rich man. Sometimes you get the sense that the doctor doesn’t truly care for his patients and that it is just a profession for him. The performances in the film are just phenomenal. Rooney Mara proves that she is not just a one-trick pony. She really has a commanding presence on-screen. Her high-anxiety makes the audience feel that we really don’t know where she is going, and that is nothing short of enthralling. Law also puts on probably the best performance of his career. You question his motives and morals throughout the entire film, but you still don’t feel like you completely know him at the end. Tatum, surprisingly enough, showed some solid acting chops in this film too. He was truly intense in the right moments, but also convincingly real in many other spots. A true coming-out party for him. Soderbergh said that this would be his last feature-film. I really hope this is not the case. Soderbergh has always been known as a diverse director, but this film proves it even more. He doesn’t have to pull any fancy tricks with the camera or use violence to up the intensity. In the tradition of Hitchcock, he just knows how to pace a story so that the intensity and intrigue come naturally. The film is also shot rather dark, which can be distracting in some cases, but it wasn’t here. It created a new atmosphere. Everything was also shot at very low angles, which tends to be very strange, but it created a beautiful intimacy between all of the characters that truly benefited the film. One of the reasons I truly believe this is (so far) the most important film of 2013 is the trust Soderbergh put into his actors for this film. This is a story in which the actors really carry. While the film did have good camera work, lighting, and editing, it didn’t matter. The intensity and mystery existed because of the performances by the actors. It takes a lot of guts and trust for a director to put the liveliness of a film within the hands of its actors, but Soderbergh did it and they nailed it. He casted who he wanted to, and because of that, he truly trusted everything his actors wanted to do, and that was the reason that “Side Effects” was such a strong and powerful narrative. Again, the film is not perfect. It starts off slow and takes 20-30 minutes for audience members to get into, but once you do, you are a slave to its craft. This film is not going to take over the box office because of its competition, but I urge movie-goers to give this film a shot, especially any psychiatrists or young psychology students. To say the least, you won’t be able to get the film out of your head for several hours.