At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Side Effects “2013”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Side Effects “2013”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Psychological Thriller/Stars: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, Vinessa Shaw, Ann Dowd/Runtime: 106 minutes

If there is one thing that annoys me more than anything else whenever I turn on my TV it’s not accidentally turning on my stereo instead nor is it the fact that AMC has gotten absolutely terrible with how they edit the heck out of movies I might otherwise enjoy watching for a couple of hours. Rather, it’s all of those absolutely absurd drug commercials for everything from Viagra (quite the joy to see one of those pop up on Nickelodeon during an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants of all places) to Zoloft (a wonderful thing to show during an episode of Cops where a lot of suspects are getting tased) and seemingly everything in between. With that said though, perhaps the ones that grind my gears the most dear reader are those that prove to be quite deceptively relaxing with their non-invasive music whilst showing us a depressed individual who is refusing to get out of bed on a rainy day only to, upon taking the drug in question, go jogging outside or whatever with a big smile on their face all while the day has now magically become sunny (or something like that). I mean I can’t decide what’s more hilarious to think about in that moment dear reader: the fact that apparently this drug has magical properties that can impact both a person’s psyche let alone nature itself or the announcer quickly and swiftly making it clear that how you respond to the drug might be different than what you see here (no kidding). In fact, the announcer goes on to say that, among the possible issues you might face, there is the chance for insomnia, nausea, issues in more intimate aspects of your life, and other terrible things that they rattle off so fast that even the Roadrunner from Looney Tunes would tell you to slow down when talking about. Yet what if one of the potential issues that a medication prescribed to a patient resulted in the patient potentially committing a devastating crime, what would be the potential ramifications to both the doctor who prescribed it as well as the aforementioned patient, and what if (maybe, just maybe) there was more to the story than that? Indeed in case you hadn’t put two and five together yet dear reader it is those questions that are at the heart of the slice of cinema I am reviewing for you today in the shape and form of a thriller from 2013 known as Side Effects. A film that, if I’m being honest, is definitely one of a rare breed in that the less you know about it going in, the more likely it is you will enjoy it. Even if going into a film completely cold isn’t exactly your forte however, I promise that you should find this quite the lively and thrilling sit at the same time. To be sure, it is by no means a perfect film, but with the aid of compelling work on both sides of the camera Side Effects is a taut and intelligent cinematic outing that is definitely one that is worth your time to say nothing of another winning entry in its distinct helmer’s filmography.

The plot is as follows: Side Effects gets its thrilling story underway by introducing us to a woman by the name of Emily Taylor. A woman who, among other things worth knowing about her, is about to get the chance to begin putting the pieces of her life back together. This is because on the day that our film opens, her husband Martin is finally getting out of that distinct locale known as prison after having spent the last 4 years there due to his involvement in a rather infamous type of criminal activity that you or I might refer to as insider trading. Yet despite the fact that her loving husband finally getting the chance to come home to her after all this time should technically be viewed as a chance for renewed happiness for our couple, that’s not entirely accurate. This is because of the teeny tiny little detail that Emily shortly thereafter starts showing some major hints that she is suffering from depression. A depression that, despite her husband’s seemingly loving and genuine attempts to help her get through it to the best of his ability, soon manifests itself in the form of her attempting to take her own life via driving her car as fast as she possibly can into a wall inside a parking garage. It is at this point in the story that we see that Emily is soon introduced to a man by the name of Dr. Jonathan Banks. A man who, for the purposes of this review, I will reveal to you is the psychiatrist who has been assigned to her case. We soon see that, under Banks’ care, Emily is put on several distinct medications in order to try and treat her specific psychological ailment only to have not a single one of them work much to the frustration of both patient and healthcare provider in equal measure. In a last-ditch effort, we soon witness as Banks, under the recommendation of a trusted colleague (and Emily’s former psychiatrist I might add), decides to put Emily on an experimental new drug known as Ablixa. Miraculously, we see that the drug actually starts to aid Emily fairly significantly with the only issue that she mentions to Banks during their sessions together being that she has developed a tendency to sleepwalk. Now normally you might be thinking that this, in the grand scheme of things, is not the most worrisome side effect in the world for a patient to be displaying while on a medication and you might be right for thinking that dear reader. Unfortunately, this is not one of those times. A fact that soon becomes terrifyingly clear when, whilst in the midst of a sleepwalking episode, we witness as Emily commits a truly ghastly crime. One that will not only send shockwaves through both her and Dr. Banks’ lives, but also plunge the latter into a truly intriguing mystery. One that you, along with the good doctor, will quickly learn that no one and nothing is truly what it seems……

Now right off, it should be said that the work done behind the camera on this film is (unsurprisingly for a Steven Soderbergh film) fairly solid all things considered. This starts with the work done by Soderbergh at the helm and he, surprise surprise, is in fine form here. Indeed not only does Soderbergh do a wonderful job of placing us firmly in its main heroine’s potentially more than slightly off-kilter mindset thus making it purposefully difficult to tell what is truth and what is fantasy, but it also manages to retain that wonderful cynical vibe about the world around us that is par for the course for a Soderbergh film. Along with that, we see that Soderbergh once again acting as his own cinematographer (unless this Peter Andrews who has filled this same exact role on the vast majority if not all of Soderbergh’s filmography of just so happens to be a real guy and then in that case I deeply apologize) and once more he does a really spectacular job. Indeed through the utilization of top-of-the-line digital tools, we see that he is able to not only stylishly frame images that are creepily potent, but he is also able to do a terrific job of making even the most ordinary places such as a doctor’s office look less like things we might see in our day to day lives and more like things that might exist in our worst possible nightmares. We also see that this slice of cinema is one that benefits quite immensely from a extremely well-penned script as written by scribe Scott Z. Burns (The Bourne Ultimatum, Contagion, and The Informant!). Indeed not only does Burns do a phenomenal job of ensuring that a lot of the information being dispensed to the audience is wonderfully factual and true to real life, but he is also able to engage in sidestepping the vast majority of the ailments that have been known to cause more than a shred of grief to quite a few of the thrillers out there that, like this film, are aiming to appeal to as many movie goers as possible in one significant manner. That being that this script is able to have every detail, no matter how big or small, tinkered with in a way that everything is able to assemble in just the right way. As a result, yes you might wonder at first what exactly certain things have to do with the overarching narrative, but trust me when I say that every single detail we are given here is there for a reason and it will all (hopefully) make sense by the end of the film. With that said though, there is perhaps one issue with this film’s script that I happened to have. That being that, for as solid as the first two acts are, this film does lose a bit of punch in the final third due to perhaps one twist too many. Yes it’s still well written, but I definitely think a few tweaks were needed here. Lastly, I also think that praise should be given here to the work done on this film’s musical accompaniment by iconic composer Thomas Newman. Indeed Newman, whose filmography includes such cinematic masterclass entries as The Shawshank Redemption, gives us a score here that permeates the entire film whilst also giving us a vibe that is equal parts ominous and unsettling all rolled into one. Suffice it to say then that the work done behind the camera most assuredly does its part and then some in bringing this truly haunting story vividly to life in a manner that might not be perfect by any stretch, but is still genuinely great at the same time.

Of course, the other big element that helps this slice of cinema work on the level that it does would have to come in the form of the work done by the small yet immensely talented cast of players in front of the camera as well. Without question this definitely starts with Rooney Mara in the role of Emily and she is phenomenal here. Indeed Mara has long been a vastly underrated talent (even when one of the movies she’s been in was the 2010 remake of Nightmare on Elm Street) and here she does a terrific job at playing someone who may appear at first to be a bit on the meek and timid side only to as the film reveal a completely side to her character altogether that is nothing short of revelatory. Suffice it to say that it’s a very difficult balancing act, but one that Mara manages to nail wonderfully. Far and away though the crown jewel in this slice of cinema’s acting department has to be from Jude Law in the role of Dr. Jonathan Banks. Indeed Law is someone who has long shown a skill for transitioning back and forth between upstanding (Dr. Watson in the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes films) and charming or charismatic yet more than slightly despicable individuals (Dickie Greenleaf in 1999’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, Dan in 2004’s Closer, or even lecherous blogger Alan Krumwiede in 2011’s eerily prescient Contagion). Even with that in mind though, we see that in this film that aforementioned tenure at switching between both of these distinct character types actually has a benefit to his performance here. This is because Law does a wonderful job at giving us a character who manages to really instill a significant degree of doubt and uncertainty into all of us as movie goers at the exact points in which you would think this guy would want us to believe him and his claims of innocence before then transitioning to the kind of determined individual who is willing to do whatever he can to find evidence of his innocence on his own thus earning our respect and admiration as movie goers before then at the end getting a chance to be slyly devious yet also cheer-inducing on the part of audiences in terms of how his particular arc in the overarching narrative manages to play out. Suffice it to say that, much like the work done by Mara, there is no denying that the work done here by Law is truly nothing short of electrifying in every sense of the word. Now it should be noted that the work done here by Catherine Zeta-Jones in the role of Emily’s former psychiatrist is definitely without question good, I also think it can safely be said that her arc in this film is, unfortunately, fairly easy to figure out as well. Lastly, I also think praise should be afforded here to Channing Tatum in the pivotal role of Emily’s husband Martin. Yes, there’s not really a whole lot I can say about this character for….reasons that may or may not be of a spoilery nature. Even so however, there is no denying that his performance in this (alongside his work in such films as 2014’s Foxcatcher, 2011’s Haywire, and 2016’s Hail, Caesar among others) most assuredly shows proof that maybe just maybe there is more to this actor than just a guy who is good at playing the “eye candy” for females to stare at and obsess over from such films as The Vow and the Magic Mike trilogy. Suffice it to say that when you also factor in solid efforts from such talents as Vinessa Shaw and Ann Dowd among others it’s clear that, mild issues behind the camera aside, the performances given by this cast definitely help to make up for them.

All in all and at the end of the day is Side Effects a completely flawless cinematic endeavor? Honestly I wouldn’t mind if that was the case, but alas that is not the case here so that’s that. At the same time though, is this the worst thing any of the actors in this chose to do since Jude Law decided to be the villain in Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur cinematic misfire from 2017 or Channing Tatum made not one, but three Magic Mike movies? Thankfully that’s not the case though in the case of the latter I am more than willing to respectfully (due to being stared down by an army of women wielding pitchforks and torches) concede that I am not the audience meant to enjoy those particular movies.  All wry observations aside though dear reader, I must admit that I really do dig the heck out of this movie. Yes, the fact that there does seem to be two distinct narratives at play here might be a wee bit of a deal breaker for some of you out there among a few other miniscule issues here and there. With those in mind though, there is also no denying that the work done behind the camera is dependably solid (I mean this IS a film directed by Steven Soderbergh we are talking about there), the narrative does prove to be quite genuinely twisty and thrilling once a key shift occurs, and the work done by the cast in front of the camera on this does prove to be quite electrifying (with particular regard to the work done here by both Mara and Law who are nothing short of fantastic in their respective roles). Suffice it to say then that if you want a great movie that Soderbergh has directed then definitely check out Traffic, Erin Brockovich, or even Contagion. On the other hand, if you are someone who is in the mood for one of this iconic director’s more solid little films that you can just watch and simply be entertained by before then going about the rest of your day then this is most assuredly a slice of cinema that is up your alley. To be sure, it might not be flawless dear reader, but at least it won’t leave you feeling the infamous cinematic side effect known as regret for having sat down and actually watched this from beginning to end either. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Side Effects “2013” a solid 3.5 out of 5.