If “Side Effects” truly is Steven Soderbergh’s final theatrical release, he would be going out on a pretty high note with this tight twisting, complex thriller.
Director: Steven Soderbergh (2013)
First off, if this is truly Soderbergh’s final theatrical release, this review should be more than just a review about “Side Effects.” Stepping in to the spotlight with his first indie release “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” and moving on to create such works as “Out of Sight,” “Erin Brockovich,” The Oceans trilogy, and “Traffic,” Soderbergh established himself as a top tier director, switching between low budget indies and higher budget, more studio friendly films. He has acted as his own Director of Photography on 17 of his 26 films under the pseudonym of Peter Andrews allowing his full style to be on display.
Soderbergh’s style has been described as sleek and sensitive. He uses a certain aesthetic that makes his films easily discernible. He is meticulous with the camera and shows great attention to detail in his filters and coloring, lighting, and camera movement. The coloring I refer to is this brown/tan/goldish hue that is present frequently in The Oceans trilogy and the more recent “Haywire” to name a few. The coloring creates this dark atmosphere, an appropriate response considering Soderbergh’s films are hardly the light and airy sort. What he may be most noted for, however, is his frequent use of ensemble casting and being able to get the performances out of each and every actor and actress.
In “Side Effects,” Soderbergh, acting as his own DP, uses coloring to his advantage yet again. It isn’t that same brownish color, but instead it is this greener tone, fitting for hospital settings and psychiatric wards as seen in the film. He also used this tone to his advantage with “Contagion,” another film dealing with sickness and disease. The ensemble for “Side Effects” includes Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum. What is best about Soderbergh films is that even when the plot has its flaws, his direction can always hold a film together, and that is definitely the case for his “final” film.
Channing Tatum’s character Martin Taylor has recently been released from prison after being sentenced for insider trading. His wife Emily (Mara) has waited for him to get out but has her own problems to deal with. She has psychiatric illnesses and cannot find a doctor or the drugs that can help her. She goes to Dr. Jonathan Banks (Law) for help and informs him of the previous doctor that she had been seeing. Dr. Banks meets with Emily’s previous psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert to see the drugs she had tried her on. She also lets Dr. Banks know of a newer drug called Ablixa that may be of use. Ablixa leads to, as Dr. Banks puts it, an “incident,” creating a whirlwind of crime including murder, insider trading, blackmail, and life endangerment.
The concept is all very exciting and the twists and turns in the plot that occur are all intriguing, however, the story does get convoluted. The idea behind the story makes sense, but there are too many over-looked loose-ends that make the story slightly hard to believe. It’s difficult to expand more than that without giving away the film (don’t believe the trailer!). But, even with the plot being convoluted, Soderbergh’s sensitive direction and total lack of control make any ridiculous plot worth watching.
Steven Soderbergh should be remembered for what he has done for the film industry. He never sold out to become a huge studio director and always stayed committed to his vision. Beginning his career in 1989 and “ending” in 2013, there are aspects of his directorial style that have never been lost. He says he is moving on to become a painter, retiring from film at the age of 50. People believe he isn’t done being a filmmaker. I am one of them, and I hope I am right.
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