From the indie drama Sex, Lies, and Videotape that made his name, Soderbergh has gone from action-heist movie Out of Sight, to real life courtroom drama Erin Brockovich, to big budget franchise Hollywood remake Ocean’s Eleven, to obscure sci-fi remake Solaris, to worthy epic bio-pic Che Parts 1 and 2 and even to disease epidemic thriller Contagion and the stripper comedy drama Magic Mike.
And now Soderbergh brings us Side Effects, a psychological thriller about psychology and the workings of the human brain. Although this may be another box ticked in his big book of film styles (before he moves onto a World War 2 film made entirely with puppets) the real question is, is Side Effects any good?
The simple answer is no.
Personally I think Soderbergh is far from a great director. In fact, he’s extremely overrated, and out of the very long list of movies that he’s made spanning all those different styles, very few are actually any good.
That said, I may be the only person alive who prefers the original Rat Pack version of Ocean’s Eleven to the over-indulgent, self-congratulatory celeb-fest that is the remake, but that really doesn’t stop Side Effects being a proper mess of a movie.
The main problem from a non-American perspective is the story’s obsession with the pill popping culture of mental health treatment. It seems that everyone is not only in therapy but on medication in the USA and there culture sees mind altering prescription drugs so near the norm that they even give them to their pets if they seem slightly irritated or irrational something as alien to us as the aliens that more than a third of all Americans believe really exist.
Side Effects story line which in very basic terms sees the suicidal wife of a recently released prisoner who is given a trial drug for her depression leading to her murdering her husband, does not work at all if you do not understand or at least give over to this clinical drug obsessed culture being that the film hinges on the relationship between patient and doctor.
Given that audiences from anywhere in the world other than the States might stumble at this first block finding it hard to understand or immerse themselves in this world of shrinks, pills and powerful pharmaceutical companies the second hurdle that hits them is how unlikable all the characters are.
One assumes we should feel sorry for Dragon Tattoo rip off actress Rooney Mara as she struggles through her issues only to stab her beloved and get thrown in jail for a murder she says she didn’t commit however her life and that of her husband played by living action man toy Channing Tatum is portrayed as a lavish and ridiculous over privileged paradise full of champagne parties and expensive cars.
When the couple loses all this due to his insider trading again it seems the film wants us to mourn the removal of Mara’s lifestyle and relate to the hardship she must suffer living in a reasonable sized house and not owning a yacht anymore or whatever it is she seems to be winging about.
Also I am not sure if writer Scott Z. Burns has watched the news in the last few years but bankers who try and cheat their way to millions using insider trading do not make sympathetic characters however ripped the actor playing them is so Tatum’s death would surely provoke more cheers than sobs as its one less crooked banker in the financially failing world.
So who does that leave us to care about in this upper class urban angst ridden nightmare? British doctor Jonathan Banks played by Jude Law of course but then again he’s the one who gave her the drugs to bag himself more money of the pharmaceutical company. How about Catherine Zeta-Jones and her crazy plastic surgery stretched face? Oh I give up!
Perhaps Soderbergh ‘s making a point by making everyone unlikable and really Side Effects is an anti anti depressant essay on the evils of the American health system. The issue is if that’s true the film jumps subject track so many times you can’t tell what it’s about.
It’s almost as if Soderbergh was trying to cover even more film genre’s within his own movie as Side Effects veers between modern day moody romance to mental health and drug addiction drama to court room story to ridiculous conspiracy theory thriller with the first half never stopping in one place long enough to really get going or feel connected to any of the characters.
That is until it becomes painfully obvious what is really going on and the film’s final act is laid out in front of you like the back of one of those flimsy hospital gowns filled with as many gaping holes that just upset and annoy you all the while believing itself to be cleverly covered up for the endings big reveal.
Horror movies and thrillers from Black Swan, The Brood, Jacob’s Ladder, Abre los Ojos and even Milla Jovovich’s Faces in the Crowd have covered mental health in a much more interesting and entertaining way and if you want a film about drug companies just watch the excellent Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal tragi-com Love & Other Drugs.
Side Effects is a fancy packaged star endorsed placebo which claims to turn your world around but simply fails to do anything but leave a bad taste in your mouth after wasting far too long thinking something interesting might happen.
My advice is just say no to Side Effects.