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May 21, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Side Effects (2013)

by NIR SHALEV

Side Effects (2013)

Several months back director Steven Soderbergh announced his plans to retire from the film industry. If that is true then Side Effects is a fitting swan song because it’s one of his best films.

We first meet Emily (Rooney Mara) and her husband Martin (Channing Tatum). Emily suffers from a chronic depression and the film’s depiction of it is remarkably spot on. It portrays it just as accurately and disturbingly as Lars von Trier did in his film Melancholia (2010). Emily goes through a plethora of prescribed medications. As she reads about different medications she keeps trying to change to a better one, or a stronger one.

The film’s first act is mostly comprised of psychiatrists and other doctors who converse about different drugs, how they relate to one another, and how the pharmaceutical world acts philosophically and financially. It is utterly fascinating and, mysteriously, gripping.

Emily makes a new friend out of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). He eventually prescribes a drug that not only causes her to sleepwalk, but also adds a bout of psychosis.

The film then propels itself into its second act, making Dr. Banks its protagonist and shifting gears and genres from “talking heads” to “film noir”. Dr. Banks travels to and from several different cities trying to unlock the mysteries of the drug that caused Emily terrible side effects. This second act is continually fascinating and travels in seriously twisted directions. Many viewers might be put off by the sudden change in tone and shift between the first and second acts, but on the other hand some people might just be bored by the talking heads aspect of the first part. You win some you lose some.

There are several other players in the story that come and go, some more important than others, but not a single aspect of the story in this film is superfluous. Some call it Hitchcockian, but that’s definitely the wrong term to use; Side Effects is a film noir down to its core. And it’s a terrific one, at that. All of the performances are convincing and naturalistic, the cinematography is really good, and it’s a truly gripping and rather chilling experience.

Soderbergh’s supposed leave from filmmaking is both a pleasant thing and a bad thing. It’s pleasant because his annoying orange hue won’t be visible anymore (seriously, who shoots their films in orange?), and it’s bad because we won’t see films like Side Effects and Traffic (2000) anymore. His excellent filmography includes Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), Out of Sight (1998), The Limey (1999), Erin Brockovich (2000), Bubble (2005), Che: Parts 1 and 2 (2008), and The Informant! (2009).

Soderbergh was a hit and miss kind of director, but then again who isn’t? When he delivered a hit he struck it right out of the ball park. However, he still has to answer for Ocean’s Twelve/Thirteen.

The special features include Behind the Scenes; Ablixa Website Experience; Ablixa Commercial; and Intenin Commercial.

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