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Side Effects (2013), a drug-induced, sensory-sensitive sensation

February 22, 2013

MY CALL:  This psychological crime mystery doesn’t leave its audience confused from overzealous efforts to be intelligent and twisty.  This film is slow but constantly intriguing, followable and clever.  A heavy, sensory watch.  [A]  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCHContagion (2011) and Haywire (2011), both of which are also heavy, well-scored Soderbergh hits.

“Frailty, thy name is woman.”  [–Hamlet]

Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) haunts this film as the vacant Emily Taylor, the fragile wife of a convicted felon (Channing Tatum) who is just released from prison for insider trading. Assimilating to their normal life doesn’t come easy as while he is optimistic about their future, Emily becomes depressed and suicidal.

Initial attempts at medicating Emily’s condition come with harsh side effects until, based on her friend’s recovery, she suggests that psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law; Contagion, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) prescribe Ablixa.  Afterwards, their recent problems start to melt away until Emily exhibits a new side effect.  This side effect spawns behavior which she doesn’t recall and that threatens the well being of her loved ones and Dr. Banks’ career.  Her previous doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones; Rock of Ages) shifts from helpful to accusing, matching the tides of Emily’s quivering psyche.  But most intriguing is that, over the course of the story, as Emily’s condition improves Dr. Banks’ ethics and sanity are called into question!
Even hiding behind eyeglasses, a conservative ponytail and a powersuit, I still see that saucy minx under there!  You’re not fooling anyone, Catherine Zeta-Jones.

As Martin, Channing Tatum (The Vow, Magic Mike, 21 Jump Street, Haywire, 10 Years) comes off as sweet, understanding and pragmatic.  But because of his depressed wife’s passive nature, providing no resistance or demand of compromise, this pragmatism functions as subtly controlling.  This serves the story perfectly because Martin is appropriately depicted as nice, but viewers will have conflicted feelings about what lies ahead for him.

A smart exchange of powerplays, frail vulnerability, betrayal and mystery kept me intrigued throughout and, while rather clearly guided by the actors, I didn’t feel like my hand was being held all from one reveal to the next as the audience learns bit by bit the truth behind Emily, Dr. Banks, and her “side effects.”

Clever camera work alternates its focus between the character of the foreground and the background–one never in focus without the other obscured, as if the audience’s eyes are overcoming an anesthetic blur.  Further drugging the film’s viewers is the soft,  but bleeding overexposed lighting, as if the viewers’ eyes were dilated and photosensitive.

Director Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike, Contagion, Haywire) lands another winner with this sensory-sensitive, intoxicated film.  Don’t miss this!

4 Comments leave one →
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