Side Effects (2013)

(Video on Demand, May 2013) Director Steven Soderbergh often has very different goals in mind than what the average moviegoer would prefer, but occasionally his artistic impulses align with his target audience and the result can be spectacular.  Side Effects may exhibit much of Soderbergh’s usual tics, but it also features his technical proficiency and his ability to play with audience expectations.  Interestingly enough, the film doesn’t start out promisingly: As a troubled young woman murders her husband and everyone suspects that her medications are to blame, it’s easy to feel let down by yet another basic anti-pharma diatribe; surely Soderbergh wouldn’t steep to something so basic?  But then Side Effects becomes a much more unpredictable film, and we understand why the project attracted the director.  It ends up being a fine psychological thriller, shot with Soderbergh’s typical drab pseudo-realism but in increasingly compelling fashion.  The film switches protagonists midway through, Rooney Mara’s mopey performance receding in order to favour Jude Law’s increasingly tortured psychologist.  (Meanwhile, Catherine Zeta-Jones has another small but effective supporting role –she’s been doing a lot of those lately.) A clever script, coupled with capable direction, makes for an effective thriller.  Side Effects is easily one of the strongest films of 2013 so far, and it’s a remarkable testimony to Soderbergh’s skills once he sets out to deliver a crowd-pleaser.

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