America’s all-consuming obsession with psychiatric treatment and feel-good pharmaceuticals is the back drop for Steven Soderbergh’s intriguing, atmospheric but convoluted thriller, Side Effects.
In this film Rooney Mara plays Emily a young woman who, after her husband’s (Channing Tatum) release from prison, begins to exhibit strange and even suicidal behaviour. When a psychiatrist Dr Jonathon Banks (Jude Law) prescribes Emily depression medication, her behaviour becomes more erratic and dangerous and even leads to her committing a hideous crime. In the fall-out of the case, Bank’s personal and professional life begins to unravel but he suspects there may be more to the crime than meets the eye.
Typical of Soderbergh this is a tense, slowly unspooling drama set in a world where the difference between right and wrong isn’t always clear. A queasy, yellow-tinted colour scheme suggests a moral as well as psychological illness pervading this film. Soderbergh also capitalises on some excellent locations as he places his characters before unusual architecture and foreboding cityscapes that suggest a threatening and off-kilter world.
Fine performances from a typically swaggering Jude Law and a creepy, unhinged Rooney Mara ensure the film remains credible even in the midst of some confusing and far-fetched plot twists. As a buttoned down rival psychiatrist, Catherine Zeta Jones is, however, a little too obvious a villain.
At times this film seems to emulate the work of the master Alfred Hitchcock and some of its smug duplicitous characters would have been at home in a Hitchcock thriller. Hitch, however, wouldn’t have allowed Scott Z. Burns’ labyrinthine script to detract so much from the film’s suspense.
The film really harks back to noir thrillers like Double Indemnity where an apparent innocent is drawn into a web of intrigue. Side Effects, however, is unlikely to have the lasting impact of films like the Billy Wilder classic as it ultimately feels like an exercise in style over substance and doesn’t burn itself into the memory.
Nick’s rating: Three stars.
Director(s): Steven Soderbergh
Release date: 28th Feb 2013
Running time: 106 mins.
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