Sunday, March 31, 2013

Side Effects

Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
2013. Rated R, 106 minutes.

Vinessa Shaw
Ann Dowd
Polly Draper
David Costabile
Mamie Gummer

Having most recently tackled the super secret agent flick (Haywire) and the stripper movie (Magic Mike), director Steven Soderbergh now wrestles with the psychological/medical thriller. That means someone ends up dead fairly early. We know who did it. We just have to figure out the how, the why and if the person who did it is ultimately responsible. That who is Emily (Mara). She has been holding down the fort while waiting for her husband Martin (Tatum) to come home from prison after being convicted of insider trading. For her, this is even tougher than it is most in a similar situation because she suffers from severe depression. As one person puts it, she’s been putting on a brave face. However, shortly after Martin gets out she starts having dangerous episodes. The first of which, purposely ramming her car into a brick wall, puts her under the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Law). He prescribes her some medication and that’s when all the fun begins: more suicide attempts, some hardcore sleepwalking and, ultimately, murder.

The good doctor seems most affected by all the goings on. Since the case involves a brand spanking new and very high profile drug, he’s constantly hounded by the media. He loses his practice and is in the midst of losing his family as some very ugly things about his past begin to surface. Maintaining they’re not true, he sets out to expose the truth. Jude Law handles the role solidly, if unspectacularly. Of similar caliber in performance is Catherine Zeta-Jones as Dr. Victoria Siebert, Emily’s former shrink. She lets her ‘look at me, I’m smart’ glasses and vividly painted lips do most of the heavy lifting. Tatum, now a Soderbergh regular, doesn’t have much to do until it’s decided he can’t have anything to do at all. Hint.

The shining star is leading lady Rooney Mara. As with her outstanding turn in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, she gives us a thoroughly damaged young woman. Like the people in the movie, it takes a long while to figure out if she’s a victim or creator of her circumstances. Is she possibly both? Mara wrings every ounce of emotion she can from the character keeping us on our toes.

Of course, Mara is greatly aided by Soderbergh. The man simply makes beautiful looking movies. Side Effects is no exception. It’s filled with both subtle and bold touches that congeal into exquisite frames. Unfortunately, the story eventually reveals itself to be too generic for him to elevate to greatness. We figure things out too soon because it feels like any number of Basic Instinct clones. The two things that might be considered twists are hardly unexpected. Still, the director’s craftsmanship and the star turn by Mara make for a good first hour or so. After that it devolves into too familiar territory.

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