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“Side Effects” (2013) Review

Side Effects poster

Though not being a major fan of Steven Soderbergh in the past (the “Ocean’s” films never really did anything for me), his recent effort in “Contagion” was a uniquely thrilling film. That being said, after “Side Effects” popped up on my radar, I was instantly intrigued by another thriller set in the medical world. If you have any interest in “Side Effects”, you will likely not be disappointed, though the film is not without its flaws.

Starting out, the plot of “Side Effects” feels too contrived and exaggerated. As someone working in the pharmaceutical industry, the plot felt like too much of a stretch for the first 20-30 minutes or so. Stick with it, though, and the true nature of the plot begins to unfold through many unexpected twists and turns. As the characters develop and their intentions come to light, the story in “Side Effects” becomes a complex web that Soderbergh spins skillfully. If you work in the medical field, pieces of the plot become even more interesting. Either way, Soderbergh has an absorbing plot here, as the characters are well-designed and the developments, while still somewhat farfetched, keep you on the edge of your seat trying to figure out the next plot twist.

With the characters being well-written for the film, it helps that the cast does a great job of making each scene intense and believable (for the most part). Relative newcomer Rooney Mara delivers a great performance as Emily Taylor. As I’ve said before, I have become a big fan of actress Brit Marling over the past year due to some great work, and Rooney Mara feels like a lesser version of Marling (I mean this as a compliment to Rooney, not a detriment). Jude Law also does a wonderful job as always. The one who really brings the cast down, however, is Channing Tatum. I was hoping that being in a more sophisticated release, and with Soderbergh behind the camera, Tatum would bring something to the table that I hadn’t seen out of him. Needless to say, he didn’t – even the scene that should have been his most emotional left me groaning inside. Still, Tatum doesn’t get a large amount of screen time, so the rest of the cast are able to shine.

Relative newcomer, Rooney Mara, delivers a great performance as Emily Taylor.

Relative newcomer, Rooney Mara, delivers a great performance as Emily Taylor.

Another thing that “Side Effects” really has going for it is its cinematography. Soderbergh does a great job with some wonderful lighting and color saturation. Combined with his usual knack for quick movements and cuts and you’re left with quite a well done film. Not to mention, Soderbergh produces a really cool way to tie together the opening and closing sequences of the film.

To augment the cinematography and bring the whole film together, there is a well-crafted soundtrack. From calm to intense, the music varies to match each situation nicely. This is one film of the recent ones I’ve seen whose soundtrack I actually noticed as a highlight.

“Side Effects” is another nice entry into Soderbergh’s body of work. It has many good things going for it, and for the most part, really succeeds at being an interesting thriller. Yet, for all its good pieces, there is enough bad to keep it from being really great, or reaching the level of “Contagion”. For those who enjoyed “Contagion”, or looking for a tense thriller, “Side Effects” will be a great experience. Though it stumbles early, once it gets going it is hard to not become embroiled in its twists and turns.

Final Score – 8.0/10


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