Side Effects

February 9, 2013

directed by Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Side Effects

Note: The following review doesn’t contain any crucial narrative spoilers.

As it stands now, Side Effects will be Steven Soderbergh’s last theatrical feature for a while (after HBO’s Behind the Candelabra). The director has churned out an incredible four films over the last eighteen months, and now seeks other artistic sojourns for the time being. His hot streak over the last year and a half has led him to his latest, an ostensible corporate thriller that hopscotches around traditional genre confines while speaking to the in vogue dealings and usage of prescription drugs. It’s also a film about cool and impenetrable blurred surfaces that feed the viewer intel solely through the vernacular of its own predominant subject. The really fun and twisted aspect of Side Effects is how it all meticulously plays itself out, as the narrative devilishly aligns itself with the motives of Soderbergh’s most recent efforts.

The film stars young upstarts Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum as Emily and Martin, a New York based couple looking to get on the mend and make things right after the latter’s released from prison after a four-year stint for insider trading. Scott Z. Burns’ script wastes little time in establishing Emily’s bouts with suicide and depression – the film’s core springboard. Things get serious after she purposefully drives headfirst into a parking garage wall, luckily finding herself unharmed save for a minor concussion. Her psychiatrist (Jude Law) eventually prescribes her a hot new drug on the market called Ablixa, which is prone to curing anxiety while occasionally causing sleepwalking episodes. Most of this takes place in the film’s opening third; the final hour slowly morphs as it deposits the genre remnants of the first third into a vortex of noirish cat and mouse pulp. Soderbergh and Burns pull off the trick of subverting so many elements right before our eyes like grand magicians. To place it into a grander context, Side Effects is about a certain level of gamesmanship as its central characters grapple with one another while we the audience are left to piece together all of the signs. In one scene, a relatively minor character and colleague of Law’s Dr. Jonathan Banks speaks to the impervious actions of the narrative: “You should see what’s happening, and this is hard for you,” she might as well be speaking directly to the audience. To say that Side Effects is preoccupied with cloak and dagger corporate jousting is also a mistake. Much like Contagion (but existing on a much more micro level)it’s about the spreading of data to inform and progress the narrative. While the film isn’t as meta or even as cunning as something like Ocean’s Twelve, there’s a very familiar callback to the deluge of character trickery seen in the middle portion of the Ocean’s trilogy. In a world where everyone knows everything and information is easily accessible, the best weapon to have is leverage. Once the veil starts to slip, we’re left with a criminally entertaining piece of filmmaking that should only enhance with rewatches. There’s even a little De Palma DNA found here  as a flash of eroticism works itself into the saturated proceedings. By the end, Soderbergh’s digital photography and signature brio only up the ante, resulting in a finely tuned and vastly satisfying exit point for the director.



  1. […] Ty’s lengthier review of Side Effects […]

  2. gonna watch it tonight, you’re usually spot on.

  3. […] Wheel (Perry, ’12) Upstream Color (Carruth, ’13) Spring Breakers (Korine, ’12) Side Effects (Soderbergh, ’13) Captain Ron (Eberhardt, […]

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