MRR Review: "Side Effects"

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A provocative thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh about a successful New York couple (Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum) who sees their world unravel when a new drug prescribed by her psychiatrist (Jude Law) - intended to treat anxiety - has unexpected side effects. Catherine Zeta-Jones also stars.
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MRR Review: "Side Effects"

-- Rating: R
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 8, 2013
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller

Steven Soderbergh never does what others expect. After directing award-winning dramas like "Traffic" and "Sex, Lies, and Videotape," he directed the popcorn flick "Magic Mike." Then the director teamed up with Channing Tatum, the star of "Magic Mike," for the psychological thriller "Side Effects," which will keep viewers guessing. Soderbergh claimed that this is his last film before retiring, and if that is true, he will go out on a high note.

Jonathon Banks (Jude Law, "The Talented Mr. Ripley") is an everyday psychiatrist who hands out prescription medications without a second thought. When Banks meets with Emily (Rooney Mara, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), he discovers that she cannot handle her life. The authorities arrested her husband (Channing Tatum) for insider trading, and after a stint in the big house, he is ready to come home. Emily experiences intense stress at the thought of living with him again, and the stress exacerbates her depression.

Banks recommends medication, but nothing seems to work. In one particularly dramatic scene, Emily drives into a wall while taking the medication. Banks makes a call to Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones, "Chicago"), who previously treated Emily. After she suggests a new medication, he prescribes it for Emily, and her life suddenly becomes better. It doesn't take long before she starts experiencing the side effects of the medication, and those side effects leave Banks wondering what is happening around him.

Hollywood directors have a problem when it comes to creating a solid thriller. They either film a cut-and-dry story that feels boring and dull or create a story with so many twists and turns that it doesn't make sense. Soderbergh manages to walk a thin line between both issues, crafting a film that has a number of twists and turns while explaining the story to the viewers. When the film finally reaches that dramatic last note, some viewers will find their jaws dropping as they attempt to uncover the story within a story. "Side Effects" is clearly one of those films that people will watch multiple times to pick up on all the different facets of the story.

Soderbergh draws inspiration from previous thrillers to create this solid story. He also uses his own experience behind the camera to show viewers exactly what they want to see in a thriller. The dark and saturated feel of the film shows Emily's struggles early in the film, but Soderbergh then introduces some lighter and brighter colors to show her success. Once those dark colors begin making a comeback, viewers will know that there is something more to this story.

Those who watch the film closely will find that this is Soderbergh's way of making a statement on medication in America. He shows that Banks left England because he was unhappy with the constant pharmaceutical treatment of patients and that Banks experiences the same feeling in the United States. There are so many references to prescription medication that some viewers might feel a little turned off by the film, but Soderbergh clearly wants to show what happens when people use medication as a cure-all.

A film of this type cannot succeed without a powerful cast, and Soderbergh has a stellar cast on his hands. Mara has a slight innocence about her that makes viewers think that she is a sweet and honest young woman concerned with her relationship. She also has a sharpness about her that makes it easy to believe that she could change on a dime. Mara and Tatum have a nice chemistry together, which aids in their romantic scenes, but Tatum is more of a background character in the film. Though he appeared heavily in the trailers, Tatum only has a few scenes in the film.

Both Law and Zeta-Jones previously worked with Soderbergh. Law had a starring role in "Contagion," while Zeta-Jones picked up a Golden Globe nomination for her work in "Traffic." The two know what it takes to shine in one of his films, and they have some of the best scenes in the film. Zeta-Jones goes from a minor supporting role to one of the most intricate characters in the film, while Law takes center stage as a doctor struggling with his personal feelings and the effects of those feelings on his job.

"Side Effects" is not a film for everyone. It shows a dark and gritty portrait of a woman on the verge of madness and the doctor who must treat her. Soderbergh shows that grittiness in various ways, even placing Mara in a psychiatric hospital at one point. Those viewers who make it through the dark opening scenes will find a complicated film with twists and turns that keep people guessing even after the film ends.

Rating: 3 out of 5