Feb 11, 2013

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh's swan song is an interesting thriller that, as the Magnificent Arepa so tersely put it, is overwritten by screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (who wrote the very fine The Informant!, among other things). It's a byzantine plot; in short, a young woman, the excellent Rooney Mara, is prescribed a new anti-depressant. Then there's trouble. And then there are so many twists, some great, some cheesy, that your brain ends up feeling a bit like a pretzel. It works for about three fourths of the way and then it gets a bit sleazy, as it tries to tie all the loose ends while piling up twist after twist, as prescribed, it seems to me, by those screenwriting gurus who tell you how many twists there have to be per act. Instead of a movie, Side Effects feels like you are playing Twister™, to the detriment of some potentially interesting character issues.
The best thing about Side Effects is definitely Rooney Mara, who gets to do a whole bunch of acting with great restraint. She is convincingly depressed, as she is creepy and vulnerable, a shape shifting tabula rasa. She is very impressive. Jude Law is quite good as her psychiatrist, a well-meaning doctor with excellent bedside manner, who is pressured to increase his income by collaborating with pharma companies on drug trials and being an expert witness in trial cases (it gets muddy). In a fresh twist, he becomes a victim as he barely grapples with the issue of a doctor's responsibility when a prescription goes very wrong. But more could have been made of his reluctance to accept responsibility. Instead he becomes a classic hero searching for the truth, which is a bit of a cliche. And then there is Catherine Zeta-Jones, vamping it with relish as the sexiest shrink in history. So there is much to enjoy in the performers. Soderbergh has some good, classy moments. Problem is in the writing. The screenwriter is working harder in coming up with bizarre twists than in exploring some of his more interesting themes. For instance, the uneasy and borderline unethical way in which big pharma is in bed with doctors, among other things. This seems to be the main topic of the movie (Big Pharma is Evil) until it gets derailed by a potboiler twist that seems to belong to a completely different class of movie altogether (Vampire Lesbians of Sodom). The movie is driven by plot, not character, and it kind of falls off a cliff. It is not the best movie to cap a prolific, if uneven career, but it is quite entertaining and certainly better than Che.
Here are the best Soderbergh movies, in my opinion:

Sex, Lies and Videotape
The Informant!
The Limey
Out Of Sight
King Of The Hill
Ocean's Eleven

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