Side Effects, Another Cinema Lesson by Steven Soderbergh

April 12, 2013 12:00 pm

There are different types of films: the ones you think you are going to like, and then they turn out to be insufferably boring or disappointing; the ones you love passionately from beginning to end, and the ones that happen to subtly tell two different stories, like Soderbergh’s Side Effects.

Because if something can be concluded from it, it’s that it starts from one premise and ends up with a completely different one. You might feel a little bored or think the plot doesn’t move forward, but after one hour, the story changes. And it catches your attention, preventing you from looking away until the credits start rolling. Side Effects

But, of course, Steven Soderbergh knows that the key to keep the interest with a good screenplay also lies in the actors, and he is smart enough to surround himself with some of the best ones. Some of them are new to Soderbergh, others are old friends who he knows how to handle.

His first old collaborator in this film is Channing Tatum, who seems to be rising to fame on merit. They first worked together in 2011 in Haywire (which I have never seen despite being starred in by some of my favourite actors) and teamed up again the following year for the surprisingly good Magic Mike, a film that I thought was only about male strippers and turned out to be a captivating story about choices you make and what life gives you (and male strippers).

Another old acquaintance is Jude Law, who worked with Soderbergh in Contagion. Law, in case someone has forgotten, became worldwide famous (and nominated for an Oscar) back in 1999 thanks to The Talented Mr. Ripley. And nobody really noticed what a marvellous actor he was because the only thing everyone could see was that he was so perfect and good-looking. Impossible to appreciate his acting chops when you are just staring at his eyes. But, thankfully, time has proved that Law is worth it: a Shakespearean thespian equal to Laurence Olivier or John Gielgud (just google them). In Side Effects, he begins as a supporting character, only to end up carrying the full weight of the film.

The third party would be Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has a trivial and pointless role in the first half of the movie. The Welsh actress, who worked with Soderbergh (let’s call him Steven from now on) in Traffic and Ocean’s Twelve, plays the kind of role she seems to be doing lately, a stiff woman (such a shame, when she is an actress with so many possibilities). Anyway, her performance here is flawless, even creepy at some points.

And finally, Rooney Mara, the newcomer to Steven’s film world. She is the lead during the first hour, and she plays the many layers of her character with a stunning credibility. Her role consists of looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, and she achieves that easily.

Without giving too much away, the story begins with a young married couple (Tatum and Mara). He is released from jail after a five-year prison sentence for inside trading, and she has a past of depression. In the past, she was treated by Zeta-Jones’ character, and now she begins a therapy with a psychiatrist played by Jude Law, who starts giving her a new pill whose side effects are yet to be discovered. And after that, one and a half hours of genuine storytelling and taking sides depending on whose POV we are being told. So kudos also to Scott Z. Burns, the screenwriter, because he makes you change your mind at least three times throughout the movie. Soderbergh

After seeing this film, one can only hope that Steven won’t carry out his intention of retiring from film-making to focus on his painting career. His paintings should be astonishingly good then.

 

TECHNICAL ASPECTS

Thomas Newman is a great composer, but his best achievement with this film is how he chooses to leave some moments in musical silence. That happens when it needs to happen.

The constant high-angle shot close-ups cause a feeling of anxiety that empathise with Mara’s character during the first part of the film. It also makes everything in the movie seem weird, hence the confusion one might feel at the beginning of the story.

The first shot and the last one are opposites, and they look very similar to the beginning of The Apartment, film that at the same time pays tribute to The Crowd.

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