Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Side Effects (2013, Steven Soderbergh)

Quietly confident as it navigates various twists and power shifts in a deceptively convoluted plot, Steven Soderbergh's final film is a nightmare parable taking it to the heart of the pharmaceutical industry while disguised in genre make-up. Side Effects makes for an intelligent and ultimately impressive final bow to an illustriously varied career.

An exquisitely 'old-school' title sequence reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby slowly draws us in from a wide shot of a city to an apartment window, an apartment with a once pristine interior now sprayed with blood. Taking us through a three week build up to the aforementioned bloodletting introduces Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) as she relapses into depression as she anticipates her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), who is soon to be released from prison. After attempts to end her life Emily is put on a new drug programme by psychiatrist Jude Law that should clear up the deep-set negativity at the heart of the problem, however, as the title alludes, there are complications in Emily's relationship to this new drug as the film takes a narrative nosedive down the rabbit hole.

Side Effects succeeds in subverting the rather familiar set-up laid out so early on, revealing layer after layer in its development with a growing level of power plays at its heart. Beginning as a paradigmatic psychological thriller, Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns dismantle connotations of genre and take the wheels off, pushing the story into unexpected territorial shades. What the film manages, something that the best thriller/mysteries do so well, is keeping the audience one step behind as the narrative unfolds while maintaining intrigue throughout so as not to alienate. After regaining a sense of creative fulfilment with Magic Mike after a string of un-involving projects, it's therefore vital that again Soderbergh is tightly behind the controls to match the precision of his visuals with a schematically astute delivery this time around. Shooting as usual under the pseudonym of Peter Andrews, Side Effects is Soderbergh's most visually seductive film of his career, surpassing anything he's made in the last 13 years.

The cast are all of a piece here and deliver everything needed for a film of such wavering dynamics; fans of Magic Mike may be disappointed that Tatum doesn't get as much to play with, Rooney Mara adds more evidence to the pile that she's simply an unmissable young performer as she manages a wide spectrum of emotions/perceptions, and Law does some of his best work as he carries much of the film on his own steam. Thomas Newman also delivers some of his strongest material in years, a composer of an often benign nature, his work here brilliantly brings about menace and foreboding but in an enticing and lulling manner. Like Emily Taylor, the cataclysmic and beautiful centrepiece of Side Effects, Newman's score is both morose and irresistibly inviting.

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