Soderbergh remains affective

On February 10, 2013

  • Steven Soderbergh solidifies his reputation as an esteemed filmmaker with thriller Side Effects, a film that will capture audiences with its portrayal of disease and mental suffering. Courtesy of Di Bonaventura Pictures

She looks lifeless from the start. Her face is masked in desolation, as her wide, barren eyes gaze into bleak nothingness. From her opening scene, Emily Taylor appears estranged from our world, not coherently existing with the rest of the population.

Emily is depressed.

Side Effects is one hell of a thriller. It's the latest, and reportedly the last, feature film of Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike), one of the best modern filmmakers of the past two decades. From inspiring tragedies like King of the Hill in 1993, to male-stripping dark comedies like Magic Mike from last summer, Soderbergh has swept most the genre plane with ease. Watching his films are rare sensations.

Side Effects is reminiscent of Soderbergh's masterful Contagion, one of the best films of 2011. That film also framed disease and suffering in convincing, levelheaded fashion. The films contain eerie plausibility, involving tangible characters who hook our attention instantaneously.

The plot: Emily (Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) eagerly awaits the release of her wholesome husband, Martin (Channing Tatum, Magic Mike), who is finishing a four-year prison sentence. Whether her depression developed prior or during her husband's absence is unclear.

mmediately following Martin's release, Emily wanders further and further into lunacy. One day, she buckles up and intentionally speeds into a cement wall. The next day, she nearly commits suicide via the subway. The reasons for her suicidal tendencies remain unanswered, which only escalates the suspense even higher. The origins are irrelevant; what matters are the consequences of her mounting misery.

Enter Dr. Jonathon Banks (Jude Law, Rise of the Guardians), a psychiatrist suffering from anxiety of his own. At one point, he collects depressants for him and his wife, which flickers the light bulb of irony. Their marriage skates on thin ice, while Emily's state of being continues to drown.

Banks prescribes Emily to a newly acclaimed drug called Ablixa, which apparently has had no negative results. But the pill only triggers a second layer of madness in Emily, causing an incident that worsens things.

Like all of his films, Soderbergh treads each scene with incredible precision by developing the story delicately. On top of the film's remarkable realism, Soderbergh supplied his actors with the perfect amount of dialogue to carry the action. Scenes without dialogue are overlapped with a peculiar soundtrack that churns the audience's stomach. The score thrusts viewers into Emily's perspective, propelling her depression from out of the screen.

Soderbergh also borrows a familiar color scheme from Contagion, layering his scenes in foreboding greens and yellows that highlight the notion of sickness. He consciously propels Emily's depression onto the audience. Films are scarcely this involving but for Soderbergh, it's effortless, as he absorbs his spectators into his diseased world.

It comes with the territory that a Soderbergh film is packed with first-rate casting and Side Effects is no exception. Mara gives an Oscar caliber performance as a woman without principle. The underrated Tatum simply plays a good guy looking out for his wife, and Law remains one of the greatest modern British actors. What advances all of the performances is the script by Scott Z. Burns (Contagion), who supplies meaningful dialogue and makes the audience want to listen to everything happening.

This is Soderbergh's 26th feature film, and might be his last, a depressing sign for Hollywood. Perhaps Side Effects was an allegory of the film industry following his retirement.

But for now, audiences can enjoy one more piece of expert filmmaking, while many recent releases have been nothing short of appalling. Soderbergh restores hope for cinema.



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