Director Steven Soderbergh’s “last” big screen film, Side Effects, is an effective pharmaceutical thriller that operates on multiple levels at once, in typical Soderbergh fashion. From the hazy yellow appearance, to the third act twist — Side Effects is a top-to-bottom Soderbergh slow-burn thriller that focuses on its core performers: Jude Law, Rooney Mara & Catherine Zeta-Jones, while also providing a bit of social commentary on the country’s ever-rising problem with prescription drugs and how it can turn lives upside down and inside out.
Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a successful working class American with a husband (Channing Tatum) that is fresh out of a prison after doing time over an insider trade that went south on him. Her life is on the rise as she welcomes home her loved one and prepares to start the next chapter of her life. But she’s depressed. Depressed to the point of needing serious medical attention, after attempting to “fix” her problem in a permanent matter.
Her depression leads her to Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Banks is a successful doctor that’s simply looking to help better the lives of those around him, even if it means taking a few risks here and there. The two form a close patient-doctor relationship that eventually leads to some questioning both of their motives.
Things get murkier as Emily’s previous doctor, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) steps in and attempts to get a grasp on the situation after a shocking event takes place that alters both Emily and Jonathan’s lives.
The rest of Side Effects is a tense thriller that twists and turns and must not be spoiled at any costs.
Director Steven Soderbergh has mentioned time and time again that Side Effects will be his last big screen film and if that’s the case then we’ve been treated with one important piece of cinema for him to go out on. He successfully delivers both a tightly constructed first-class drama and a film that openly discusses America’s problem with prescription medications.
He doesn’t just tell the two stories on separate levels, but instead integrates them down to the bone. Side Effects‘ color palette literally shifts from bright and gloomy to dark and cold as the character of Emily begins taking more and more drugs. It’s as if Soderbergh wants the audience to literally see and feel the transformation of his characters once they begin taking certain medications.
He does this to give the film a specific look and feel, while also hitting home the themes and problems that he’s working with. The film itself follows a damaged character as she attempts to fix herself with the help of medication. This is of course the surface-level stuff. I cannot comment on anything deeper without ruining some of the film’s best moments.
Side Effects is one of those films that you briefly read into before diving in without the slightest clue as to what it’s really about. Go in as blind as possible.
That being said, the performances here are spectacular. Rooney Mara approaches Emily with an incredible amount of distant loneliness. This helps set in the state of confusion that the character is in, while also making you yourself become a little confused when it comes to figuring out whose side you’re really supposed to be on. Again, this ties in with the side effects that some drugs can have on the mind.
Jude Law completely owns the film as Dr. Banks. Initially, Dr. Banks is a shady and almost slimy-looking character that you just don’t want to trust, but as the film unravels itself a little more you’ll slowly realize just how important Banks is to the rest of the story.
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum don’t hold up as strong, but both provide the film with two angles that Mara and Law don’t have. Again, I can’t fully comment without ruining parts of the film’s tightly-wrapped story.
Soderbergh’s trademark direction can be found all over Side Effects. It’s a slower film that often shifts focus on the drop of a dime. It’s also well-acted and brilliantly shot, with razor sharp digital photography that’s filtered appropriately and precisely. A quarter of Side Effects effectiveness comes from how Soderbergh presents each and every scene, constantly changing color structure and camera positions as a direct result of the film’s shifting moods and the characters always-changing emotions.
Side Effects is one of my favorite films of the year so far. Steven Soderbergh has crafted a brilliant film that functions on multiple levels at once, without ever falling flat on its face. The film does sputter out towards the end, with a finale that could benefit from being a little quicker and less focused on reveal, but aside from that minor glitch I’d call Side Effects one of Soderbergh’s best.
Side Effects comes to Blu-Ray courtesy of Universal with a confusing and hard to describe 1080p video transfer. On one hand it remains mostly faithful to the film’s soft presentation that is full of over saturated yellows and gloomy greens and blues, while on the other hand the presentation feels like it doesn’t hold up to some other recent new release titles. I side with the film being presented exactly how Soderbergh wanted it to look, which means we’ll have to settle with the washed out black’s and shortcomings with up-close detail.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is a touch on the quiet side, which is again something that I think Soderbergh was intentionally shooting for. Dialogue is never hard to understand or confusingly mixed, but a lot of the track feels restrained and soft.
Here’s a list of bonus material found in this combo pack:
- Behind the Scenes (HD)
- Ablixa Website Experience (HD)
- Ablixa Commercial (HD)
- Intenin Commercial (HD)
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
Side Effects is one of director Steven Soderbergh’s better dramas. It’s also a slow-burn thriller that is full of twists and turns that might turn some audience members off completely. It’s always hard recommending a Soderbergh movie, because the director is so diverse and he rarely sticks to the same storytelling methods for longer than a film or two. You could love Magic Mike, hate Contagion and think Haywire was decent, yet I’d still have no idea where you’d land with Side Effects.
It’s worth the chance though. Side Effects is a first-class thriller that’ll inform you and entertain you. Watching the characters change and react to change after coming in contact with various prescription drugs is an interesting journey that also happens to blend well to make for a film that is structured around secrecy and uncertainty. Soderbergh’s direction is clever and precise, while the performances range from downright perfect to somewhat troubling. Universal hasn’t packed the Blu-Ray with enough content to make this one a must-buy, but the video transfer faithfully captures Soderbergh’s unique visuals and the audio track does a good job keeping you slightly confused as well. Stick with a rental until you know for sure where Side Effects sits with you.
Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects is a twisty pharmaceutical thriller that functions both as an effective drama and a social commentary on America's rising obsession with prescription medications. If this is truly his last film then Soderbergh will be going out with a massive bang.