Friday, 22 March 2013

Review: Side Effects

Year: 2013
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Scott Z Burns
Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta Jones

Synopsis is here

If the rumours are true (and the interviews point towards yes), it seems that Side Effects will be Steven Soderbergh's final theatrical feature. Threatened once before but now looking much more definite, the announcement is an intriguing one. At age 50; the chameleon-like director still looked like he had a lot more in him. This said, the film maker has stated he is tired of the format and would rather spend his time painting.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. A television interview on CBS with Quentin Tarantino had the motor mouth director mention his worry of becoming "out of touch" as he got older. Some could say that he may have a point. There's nothing wrong with going out on a high, and while others may draw attention to some elder statesmen who have placed some decent turns in their career "twilights". I doubt many would pick those later films over the likes of Taxi Driver, Manhattan, One Flew over the Cukoo's Nest, M.A.S.H and the list goes on.

So Soderbergh has decided to end the career here. Not with a bombastic, mega multi dollar showcase (imagine Ocean's 14), but with a tightly controlled psycho thriller which highlights not only the assured direction of the director, but the themes that have followed him throughout an industrious career. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who noticed that a few of the films revelations rely on sex, lies and videotape.

Sharply placed against the backdrop of big pharmacy and insider trading, Sodenbergh carefully blends topical issues to create near plausible horrors. Before the outrageous mechanics of the final third take hold, we are exposed a nightmare of dubious after effects, presumed wrong doings and shady double takes. Framed in a dreamy soft focused haze, nearly every shot in Side Effects (Sodenbergh lenses' the film under the name Peter Andrews) layers a tinge of self doubt within a viewer. You notice that much like a drug addled mind, the world around these characters are blurred and obscured. Sometimes only the character is in focus. Yet even so, their words bring no clarity. 

Soderbergh's tricky thriller does much to prime us correctly so even the films more lurid moments later on have a feeling of plausibility. This has much to do with the films two leads as well as its smart direction and scripting. Jude Law hasn't been this watchable for years, getting the subtle ruthlessness of his character down to a tee. Yes, he comes to the aid of an ill woman, but like a Coen's movie, notice just how quickly he's willing to snap at the dangling carrot. Rooney Mara is even better. Showing her display in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn't a fluke, she acing every scene with the ability to managing to be scared and scare at the same time.

Whether or not Soderbergh leaves the cinematic world, he has undoubtedly made a sizable dent in it. Side Effects shows the work of a craftsman: assured, accomplished and solidly built. He could be tired of the format; he could hold the same fears as Quentin. Either way his swan song makes sure he goes out flying.