Friday, February 22, 2013

New film about prescription abuse brings suspense, social critique

by Camille Adams, A&E Writer   

     The much-hyped movie “Side Effects,” by director Steven Soderbergh, is a thriller of hitchcock proportions. The film is rumored to be Soderbergh’s final project as a director, and it would be a fine film for the Oscar-winning director to retire on.

    The film focuses on a married couple played by Channing Tatum and Mara Rooney. Rooney masterfully portrays Emily Taylor, a haggard young wife struggling to cope with the fall-out caused by her husband’s arrest for insider trading.

    As Emily faces her husband’s release from jail and his re-introduction to her life, she relapses into depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies.

    With minimal dialogue to assist her in expressing Emily’s inner battles, Rooney’s disturbed, vacant expressions, mannerisms and distant tone all skillfully paint the picture of a deeply troubled individual.

    Emily and many of her friends, co-workers and confidants seek pharmaceutical help for their life struggles. Characters in this film pop pills without hesitation: pills for interviews, pills for sleep and pills for depression.

    While the beginning of the film carefully emphasizes — without condoning — this pharmaceutical culture, the entire system comes under intense scrutiny after Emily commits a horrendous act, supposedly under the influence of a trial drug. Suddenly, lawyers, doctors and the media are all out to condemn one man — Emily’s doctor.

    Jude Law portrays this young professional, seeking justice for himself and his patient as his entire world falls apart. Law artfully engages the audience’s sympathies, as throughout the film, his character continues to believe that right can outweigh wrong.

    The first half of the film lags before leading up to the major conflict that initiates a chain reaction of confusion and intrigue.

    All characters are believable and sympathetic, with the exception of Dr. Victoria Siebert, portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Dr. Siebert’s murky role throughout the film is the least compelling element of the mystery and also the most nonsensical in the conclusion.

    The film contains many unexpected twists, but Soderbergh carefully leads the audience to the necessary conclusions. While it maintains an element of social commentary on the U.S. systems of law and medicine, the movie’s focus switches to an intriguing mystery near the end.

    Simultaneously suspenseful, surprising and compelling, “Side Effects” makes you care deeply for the protagonist, but then spend 30 minutes wondering who is truly in the right.

    Through tinny string music and unusual camera angles, including some throwbacks to Hitchcock masterpieces, Soderbergh creates the atmosphere of a true thriller.

    Oftentimes camera shots focus on individuals outside of the main conversation, or who are in another room, while playing the voice-overs of other characters.

    This method allows the audience to observe the usually hidden expressions and feelings of characters throughout the film, adding to the uncertainty surrounding their mental states.

    “Side Effects” questions our over-medicated and over-diagnosed culture, without condemning anti-depressants or the doctors who prescribe them.

    The film leaves audiences satisfied with a well-constructed end but also contemplating larger issues. “Side Effects” is a must-see and a fitting end to Soderbergh’s directing career.