Reel Talk: "Side Effects": Steven Soderbergh's film is an intriguing, complex psychological thriller

Posted by Sean van der Heijden

Steven Soderbergh has decided to end his career with what can only be described as a pharmaceutical, psychosexual thriller that deals with several morally ambiguous characters, all revolving around one horrible incident. Out of fear of giving away the intelligent, twist-filled plot written by Scot Z. Burns, that's really all that I can say. However, I can tell you that Soderbergh's confidence in directing shows in the final product. He is able to convey a sort of quiet chaos with his frequent close-ups, and by shifting in-and-out of focus throughout the screen, he was able to draw attention to the many small, yet important details of the film.

The real strength of this film is not necessarily the story itself but how it is presented. By releasing only one small piece of information at a time, we are kept waiting through interviews, court hearings, false trails, and many psychiatrist visits until, finally, everything comes together into one neat conclusion. While the entire film is very subdued, the viewer is rewarded in the end if they have paid attention to the details provided.

Of course, the story would not have turned out so well without the impressive performances that carry it all the way through. Rooney Mara is once again stunning as Emily Taylor, a woman who starts taking prescription antidepressants to cope with her husband's release from prison. Without giving much away, Emily is far more complex than she first appears, a complexity that Mara plays this perfectly by retaining a dark mysteriousness about her throughout the film. She truly steals every scene she's in and displays such a range of emotions that, at times, it's difficult to tell what her character is actually thinking. This is unfortunate for Channing Tatum, who does a fine job playing her loving and sympathetic husband trying to make everything right after being released for insider trading but who doesn't have close to enough material to compete with Mara.

Jude Law, on the other hand, is arguably an equally crucial figure as Dr. Jonathan Banks, Emily's psychiatrist whose career is launched into a scandal when his patient is involved in a tragic accident after taking an antidepressant that he prescribed. His sanity slowly unravels as his decisions come back to haunt him and he eventually has to cross several moral boundaries in order to get his life back on track. Law displays this frustration with expert skill, giving one of the best performances of his recent career. The same can be said for Catherine Zeta-Jones, who,as Emily's former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert, gives a delightfully complex performance, and does it brilliantly despite her lack of screen time.

To give away any more would be to say too much, as the film is so perfectly structured thatit is difficult to discuss without giving away the whole thing. All I can add is that "Side Effects" is not as simple and straightforward as it may appear. It is a complex labyrinth of characters and their motives, and the consequences of their actions. Despite taking a while to get started, it is truly a spectacular, thrilling and intricate journey that should not be missed.

Overall: 8 out of 10.

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