First good movie of the year, at last.
Side Effects, starring Jude Law and Rooney Mara from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is refreshing. In a world of modern thrillers, psychological thrillers etc etc that rely on cinematic sleight of hand and filmmaker’s razzle dazzle, there is none to be found here. The director Steven Soderbergh, of seminal indie classic Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989), which helped to launch the indie “revolution” to the extent it was launched, instead executes a good, straightforward and powerful story without any hocus-pocus. This is all the more remarkable considering the film’s theme, the use of prescription drugs. So many directors would with material of this nature go ape nuts with all sorts of dream and/or fantasy sequences, blurry out of focus camera effects and creepy haunting music — but not Soderbergh. I think he recognized the unique strength of the story and went about the best he could to stay out of its way.
Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum in Side Effects
What that story is I shall not delve into here. There are plenty of reviews and synopses out there for that. My general rule for this blog is to provide what only I can, and a run-down of the plot is readily available elsewhere. You’ll have to trust me that it’s a great story, and this is a great movie — almost. Checking Rotten Tomatoes, the overwhelming opinion is in favor of this movie. But a few reviews out there — negative reviews — have talked about unbelievable and convoluted plot twists. I could not disagree more. There is no problem with the story; it progresses in a perfectly believable and natural yet exceptionally compelling way.
But there is one scene about half-way through that I had a problem with. No spoiler alert here, but suffice it to say that it is a critical event in the movie, and for me it was mishandled to the point of leaving me incredulous for several minutes afterward. As honest and realistic as the totality of this movie is, this one scene was, let’s say, mis-choreographed. At it’s completion, the movie continues apace, so my doubt with this scene didn’t stop me from following along. But it lingered in the back of my mind.
With the exception of this one brief trip-up, Soderbergh does a masterful job delivering an exciting psychological drama. Rooney Mara, Jude Law, and Catherine Zeta-Jones all do a fine job, and I even liked Channing Tatum, though I’m not a fan of his. I would say that the filmmaking style lacks a certain edginess, for lack of a better word. I applaud how it eschews the nearly ubiquitous reliance on cinematic gimmicks in lieu of actual story. However, I found myself wanting a little glimmer, just a touch of razzle-dazzle to push it over the top. An example of this is the dull intro title credits, though I suppose they are vindicated by symmetry with the end.
As it stands, I still very much recommend this movie. Watch the trailer first. If you think you’ll like it, you won’t be disappointed. Definitely a pleasant surprise; 7/10 bordering on 8.
–UPDATE– I’ve watched the trailer again, and am reflecting on what a brilliantly constructed little movie this is. As such, I am revising it to an 8/10. Or, that is to say, highly recommended. It’s unlikely that there will be many more movies this year on par with or surpassing Side Effects.