Film Review: Side Effects

Side EffectsSteven Soderbergh has some pretty impressive films under his belt but still seems to be a director who has never quite broken into Hollywood’s elite. He’s directed big name films such as Erin Brokovich and Ocean’s Eleven and won an Academy Award in 2000 for Traffic. However, those highs didn’t really last and his latter material, including films such as Magic Mike and Contagion, has had a much more lukewarm reception. Side Effects is (apparently) going to be Soderbergh’s final film having become disillusioned with Hollywood, and it’s another decent, if unspectacular, addition to his catalogue.

When her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from prison, Emily (Rooney Mara) falls into a deep depression. After trying to kill herself, she is prescribed a new drug by her therapist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). However, the drug has some unexpected and life altering side effects.

Side Effects suffers from a somewhat mundane start but soon picks up pace significantly, laying off the obvious subtexts of a ubiquitous and consumer-like pharmaceutical industry in favour of a more traditional thriller with strong central performances and a twist-laden plot. Because when Side Effects is good, it’s really good; it’s slick and never lets you settle long enough to feel comfortable. However, too often it stumbles and tries to be a little too clever for its own good. At the film’s climax, just as you should be fully engaged, it throws one too many twist at you and the whole thing becomes a bit of a mess. The motives of some of the characters, particularly Jonathan, are also questionable and some choices they make do belittle the story at times.

Performances are generally strong; Rooney Mara, in her first feature since 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, gives a subtle but effective performance, perfectly balancing her character’s vulnerability with something else bubbling just under the surface. However, it’s Jude Law whose performance really shines through; the dutiful doctor at the start, becoming a much more complex character by the film’s conclusion. Catherine Zeta-Jones, on the other hand, is little more than laughable as Victoria Siebert, Emily’s former shrink. Her acting is matched in eye-rolling melodrama only by her obviously foreboding black clothing and make-up. She might as well be wearing a witch’s hat. As for Channing Tatum, his small amount of screen time makes a mockery of his equal billing in the film’s advertising.

If this does indeed prove to be Soderbergh’s last film, then it’s difficult to say he’s gone out with a bang. Side Effects has a Hitchcockian dark side to it that is its strongest element (although possibly not explored enough), but it never gets out of third gear for long enough to consistently be as good as it threatens to be.

3 and a half pigeons

3.5/5 pigeons

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40 thoughts on “Film Review: Side Effects

  1. keith7198 says:

    Nice review. I was pretty disappointed with this one. I think SS tries to get too clever things fall apart on him. I also thought the big reveal was pretty stupid. Just wasn’t what I hoped for.

    • Thanks Keith, I hear you there. It definitely didn’t live up to what it could have been. It did try to be too clever for its own good when everyone is double crossing each other and the whole thing just become confusing and silly.

      • keith7198 says:

        I 100% agree with you on the acting, especially Jude Law. He was fantastic. He sold his character very well. I mean my opinion of him changed over and over throughout the film. Great performance.

      • I’ve never been a fan of Jude Law, I’ve always thought he was incredibly average but I am definitely changing my opinion of him, he was great in this.

  2. ruth says:

    Great review, Chris! I think we have a similar rating for this, I gave it a 3/5. I agree completely that it tries to be too clever for its own good, I personally don’t care for the piled on plot twists. And though I didn’t predict the ending w/ Zeta Jones’ character, it still left me underwhelmed. I think Jude was good, though to me he lacks star quality. It is interesting how Soderbergh has never quite broken into Hollywood’s elite, like you said. I think he’s talented but I’m sort of indifferent about his supposed *retirement.*

    • Thanks Ruth! I’m the same, I’m not that bothered about his retirement either, although to be honest I don’t think anyone actually believes he’s going to actually retire for good. And I completely agree with you about Law not having star quality. I’ve always thought he was pretty mediocre but I liked him in this and he’s perhaps better than I thought but he still doesn’t have that something about him that others have.

      • ruth says:

        Oh yeah I think Law is a great actor and he’s excellent here, I just don’t think he’s got that leading star charisma, that ‘it’ factor. I don’t know why but some people just either have it or don’t have it, and it’s not just about looks as he’s gorgeous!

      • Ha! Well I’ll take your word on that aspect! But I totally agree, it’s hard to explain. I just always think of him as an actor who hasn’t quite made it despite being pretty decent, a bit like Soderbergh in that respect really!

  3. Mr Rumsey says:

    It looks interesting, even if not as good as I had hoped. I haven’t seen Magic Mike yet either perhaps I’ll do a double bill some day and catch up!

    • I’ve not seen Magic Mike either to be honest but I do quite fancy checking it out. Apparently it’s not *all* about stripping! This is worth a watch but don’t feel too bad if you don’t get round to it straight away.

  4. Dan Heaton says:

    I enjoyed Side Effects a lot, though I can’t argue with you that Zeta Jones’ character is pretty obvious. I think that Tatum’s billing is set up to make it shocking when he’s killed; that’s one reason there were the silly restrictions on critics not arriving late to the screening. I think your point about this movie hitting big when it works is correct. When it’s really moving in the middle portion, it’s a gripping thriller.

    • That’s a good point about Tatum, I hadn’t taken that into account. Kind of doing the whole Psycho/Janet Leigh thing. And you’re right about the middle section, that part really did zip along. It’s a shame the beginning and particularly the end weren’t quite as good in my opinion.

  5. Spot on review! Completely agree with you. A good film but I can’t help wishing it had offered more.

  6. mettelray says:

    I’ve heard that it’s not the best movie to go out with which is sad. But I do like the poster… Not that it really matters. Still going to see it though even if it is a bit mediocre-ish.

  7. r361n4 says:

    Definitely not a bang for soderbergh, but at least it’s not a whimper. Good review, I’m definitely interested in how many different opinions people have on Zeta Jones in this, I simply thought that in comparison with her last few roles (Rock of Ages, Broken City) this looked like a home run for her, lol

    • It could have been a much worse film to go out on, this is by no means a bad film. As for CZJ, I haven’t seen her in either of those but apparently they’re pretty poor films. She just stands out like a sore thumb in this for me, kind of gives away a little too much that she’s gonna be up to no good.

  8. sati says:

    Great review, I will wait for DVD to see this one, I like Soderbergh style – his movies are always so elegant.

  9. CMrok93 says:

    Weird movie, but still a bunch of fun because I liked the twists, the turns, and the performances that seemed to get better as it went along. Good review.

  10. claratsi says:

    going to see this week, Soderberghs last movie, I knew that but I reckon he’ll be back. There’s a load of Ocean films to do, 14, 15, 16, there’s plenty of numbers left.

  11. Mark Walker says:

    Fine review here Chris. Soderbergh is always a bit lukewarm but I’m intrigued by the story of this one. I’ll give it a chance when I can.

  12. Great review, Chris. I was really looking forward to this one, but you’ve certainly curbed my expectations with this review…I don’t think Soderbergh’s ever been as good as his first film: Sex, Lies and Videotape!

    • Thank you! 🙂 I think it is best to go in with slightly curbed expectations to be honest, it’s not anything special. I’ve not seen Sex, Lies and Videotape but Soderbergh’s recent work doesn’t seem to have had quite the same critical reception as his earlier stuff.

  13. A good review. I had a hard time getting my thoughts together for this one. Some great stuff mixed in with some poor pacing. It was hard for me. But Soderbergh is a very impressive storyteller to be sure!

    • Thanks! To be honest, I had a hard time with this review too. I even tweeted that it was kicking my ass! ha! Totally agree about the poor pacing. It ticks along in the middle but the beginning and the end are a bit sloppy.

  14. Yeah, I agree Chris, this movie was ok… but not great. Youre right about it choosing the more traditional thriller route as opposed to being a condemnation of the pharmaceutical industry. I wonder if it would have been even better if it had. 😦 I still liked it well enough though.

  15. Popcorn Nights says:

    Was thinking of going to see this at the weekend, but you’ve given me food for thought now. I like Soderbergh’s films despite the patchy quality of most since Che, so I’m disappointed he has quit. He has left made a lot of good films in my opinion, and a couple of great ones. Anyway, enjoyed reading, as always.

    • Thanks for the kind words! I would still give this a watch if you get the chance, it’s a decent film. Just perhaps nothing hugely special.He has made some pretty decent films but I little that separates him from anyone else. Still, he did win an Oscar so he’s clearly reasonably highly regarded, or used to be at least.

  16. Mark Hobin says:

    To date, my favorite film of 2013. Nice review!

  17. vinnieh says:

    Excellent post. I’m going to see this soon.

  18. I wholeheartedly agree with you on many levels… particularly that it tries many times to be smart in misleading you but it ends up being too jumble to be called clever. Also, Zeta-Jones does bring on the melodrama which ends up cheapening the story.

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