Sunday, March 10, 2013

Side Effects Review

So I have to admit, I've been waiting in quiet anticipation for Rooney Mara's most recent starring role since the release of it's trailer around November time last year. I'd been eagerly awaiting a performance from her since the 2011 Hollywood remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so was naturally was very excited, especially when I found out it would also be featuring Jude Law and directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Tonally, Side Effects looked similar to Soderbegh's previous film Contagion, and in a way tackles similar themes of medical paranoia, however I much preferred Side Effects as I thought the acting on a whole was better, and that perhaps because there were less characters, it was easier to invest yourself in their story, rather than jumping around as I felt Contagion did.

Side Effects follows the story of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), who after her husband (Channing Tatum) is released from prison begins experiencing symptomatic depression, and is sent to a psychiatrist after an apparent suicide attempt. After trialing a new drug prescribed by Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), she begins to experience extreme and instantaneous side effects.

Before I talk about the story itself (spoiler free this time), I have to mention how beautifully shot this film was. All the way through I couldn't stop thinking about how well the light and shadow seemed at times to cut people and places up, and how picturesque some of the shots were. I thought the camera work was stunning, and I liked how, often the background or the surrounding areas of a shot would be blurred out of focus, leaving whatever was in the foreground to stand out clearly, adding somewhat of an extra dimension to the film which I thought was quite apt. Also, I mentioned briefly before about it being 'tonally similar' to Contagion, as the hues of certain colours within occasional scenes seemed to stand out and have either a sense of warmth and liveliness, or a more bland, dulling effect on the way scenes looked. Again, I thought this was not only really cool to look at, but appropriate to the film as the various shades of grey, dull yellow and red seemed to determine the mood of a scene. 

Also, as an aside, I thought despite being very subtle and unobtrusive the score was really quite good and really added to the film. I've just looked it up and it's by Thomas Newman, so I'm giving it another listen as I type.

In terms of performance, Mara was excellent, delivering yet another outstanding performance in which we are allowed to see more of the fragility she brought to TGWDT, this time in the character of Emily. What I found to be most compelling was how your perception of Emily changes as you begin to see a darker side to her character as the film progresses. The ambiguity of the ending leaves you to wonder who the real antagonist was. And despite finding Jude Law to be playing somewhat of a similar character as I've seen before, again it is the ending that really lets you decide whether his character has redeemed himself. I thought quite a few of the characters were morally, quite questionable, making the supposed 'justice' served seem more like a vague characteristic of  what felt like a neo-noir-esque conclusion. Overall I think these two were the strongest performances.

In terms of plot, there are a lot of twists and turns that definitely keep you on your toes. It's the kind of film you have to concentrate for as there is a lot more to the story than the trailer suggests. I found it to be nicely suspenseful, if a little slow around the middle, though when the story begins to pick up again it really picks up. I definitely think this qualifies as a sharp and gripping thriller that leaves you guessing throughout and I'd even go as far as to say this is one of the best psychological thrillers I've seen in a while, and has again left me hoping to see more of Rooney Mara, particularly in other films of this genre as I think it works so well for her. As for Steven Soderbergh, I've read this might be his last film which is a shame as I find his style of film-making to be quite unique and refreshing, both visually and in terms of the script. I'm thinking further exploration of his older back-catalog of work is in order...