Back when Basic Instinct became a huge hit there were a number of movies that tried to emulate its success, either just by coincidence or by design. Films like Malice, The Last Seduction, Original Sin, Jade and Wild Things are just a sample of the schlocky joys that you could encounter between the start of the ’90s and the start of the 21st century. Some were better than others, but all had a certain . . . . . . trashiness to them. They embraced a pulp vibe that infused the proceedings with a sense of fun, encouraging viewers to leave any shame or guilt at the door and just enjoy the ride (no pun intended).
What do these movies have to do with Side Effects? Well, Side Effects is a good movie. It’s almost a very good movie. But it never feels like a truly FUN movie, despite having a LOT in common with the previous titles just mentioned.
Rooney Mara plays Emily Taylor, a young woman having a bit of a difficult time. Her partner (Channing Tatum) has just been released from jail after serving a sentence for insider trading and Emily seems to be finding this period of adjustment a bit too much. She eventually sees Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) after a self-harming incident and begins trying to find a course of treatment that will work for her. Dr. Banks eventually finds the right medication for Emily, or so he thinks. It’s only a short while until things get a lot worse, leaving Emily facing her own prison sentence and Dr. Banks having his professionalism called into question as his life begins to come apart.
With a number of twists and turns throughout, Side Effect does what it sets out to do. It entertains and tries to keep viewers guessing. Unfortunately, most of the plot developments are easy enough to spot from about halfway through the movie. It’s still enjoyable to see just how things are resolved, but not as much fun as it could have been. Soderbergh and Burns may have felt that too many ridiculous reveals would undermine their good work, but they’re okay when couched in material like this.
The script by Scott Z. Burns keeps things fairly light, but the entire premise raises a number of interesting points about the current climate in America, and also, increasingly, elsewhere, of people wanting a prescribed pill to cure all their ills. A nice tightrope is walked between solid thriller and a film wanting to raise awareness of a specific issue.
Soderbergh directs with his usual style – relaxed, neat but not rigid, naturalistic – and puts together a typically decent cast. Mara is fantastic in her role, solidifying her reputation as a superb young actress after I last saw her in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, while Law is also very good, playing someone very controlled and professional for as long as possible while so much starts to crumble around him. Channing Tatum does well with his relatively small role, Catherine Zeta Jones sinks her teeth in to a fun role, and Polly Draper and Vinessa Shaw both provide great support in very different roles (with the former playing Mara’s boss and the later playing Law’s wife).
Side Effects is a good movie. I enjoyed it a lot. I just couldn’t help feeling throughout most of it that it could have been more fun. It’s definitely still recommended though.
Side Effects is out on blu-ray and DVD 29th July 2013.
DIRECTOR: STEVEN SODERBERGH
WRITER: SCOTT Z. BURNS
STARS: ROONEY MARA, JUDE LAW, CHANNING TATUM, CATHERINE ZETA JONES, POLLY DRAPER, VINESSA SHAW
RUNTIME: 106 MINS APPROX