director Steven Soderbergh has
enjoyed surprising us. He is one of the most diverse filmmakers working
having made small independent and highly experimental films, stylish
intelligent thrillers, but also less ambitious production line
understands the technical components of cinema as knowledgably as any
opting to trial unique stylistic and formal techniques.
his films have been far more
successful than others, but regardless I admire that he is a director
refuses to conform and is willing to take risks. Isn't it concerning
a filmmaker who can make their own artistic choices in the face of a
studio system is now considering retirement or an extensive break? Side Effects wouldn't be a disastrous
project to end his career on, but rather a minor footnote that shows
of the director's best qualities.
these assets retained here is
Soderbergh's ability to direct actors. He draws out two strong lead
performances, which both thrive from some gasping moments of tension
But Scott Z. Burns' script has convoluted plot twists and deep strains
credibility that soften the film's impact.
(Rooney Mara) is a young woman welcoming the
release of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) after a four year stint
prison. He is set free after his involvement with a crime related to
trading. Emily seems unhappy that Martin is already talking about a new
investment deal. Slipping into a depressive state, Emily enters her car
then drives it straight into a brick wall.
only minor injuries, Dr.
Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) insists on keeping Emily in hospital so that
treat her depression. When she fails to respond to antidepressants
help from Emily's former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine
Zeta-Jones), who suggests using an experimental drug named Ablixa. The
causes Emily to start sleep walking and she enters into some disturbing
behavior that has her in trouble with the law.
has a stylistic repertoire
that allows him to construct visual representations of mental illness
actions devoid of personal intention. "Depression is the inability to
construct a future," we're told. Soderbergh's directional choices are
persuasive of this nihilistic idea, manipulating us through the tight
the faces of his actors, while simultaneously blurring the backdrops
close-up shots successfully
provide Rooney Mara with the time to express the physicality and
mindset within her character with great conviction. By focusing on the
the actors, the thematic implication is that there is nothing but the
emotional headspace of the characters, with Emily withdrawing her
responsibility by not having control over her emotions, and supposedly
deliberateness in her actions.
film's cinematographer, using
his alias name Peter Andrews, Soderbergh has also been particular with
and filters, using them to deconstruct consciousness and intent.
constricted offices spaces and apartments, he relies on white and grey
and colour desaturation to harnesses the seemingly emotionless state of
mind. She describes herself as having as having a "poisonous fog bank
rolling into my mind", and the highly sterilized, bleak look of this
creates a visual artifice, reflecting how removed she appears to be of
influence of consciousness is
imperative to the narrative's ideology as much as the visual design. It
described as being able to provide context for meaning and actions.
after the film's twist, this raises some genuinely interesting
consciousness how can one prove intent? Would Banks for example have
Emily differently if she wasn't a woman? Is Emily's crime free from
because she was sleep walking and therefore unaware of her actions?
repercussion of these questions
is found in the collapse of Jude Law's character and his personal life.
tension is raised as he becomes emotionally fragile, with his marriage
collapsing, but also suspicions about his past with another patient.
obsessive characteristics that Jude Law provides show that he is
being a believably affected and tormented character actor. Watching him
eventually claw back his life and unravel the mystery using his
intelligence becomes thrilling in parts.
late in the film the
plotting becomes needlessly heavy and the twist which directs the
the film is explained so neatly that I wanted to resist its
the film's revelation also dilutes the moral complexity of those
about consciousness and intent in more conventional methods of the
genre. But when the performances and the visuals are this rich and
with meaning it reminds you of Soderbergh's best qualities as a
capable of better films but he would still be a great loss to this