Review: Side Effects

Poster for 2013 thriller Side Effects

Genre: Thriller
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 8th March 2013
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z Burns
Starring: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ann Dowd
Synopsis: When a woman receives a miracle treatment for her long-term clinical depression, a shock tragedy turns everyone’s world upside down, including a doctor who thinks there might be more to the situation than meets the eye.


Accomplished director Steven Soderbergh may well have the most eclectic back catalogue of any film maker. Few directors can claim to boast such a varied selection of works. Soderbergh has claimed in a number of interviews that Side Effects is going to be his last film and, if that does prove to be true, it’s one hell of a swansong.

Rooney Mara, fresh from appearing tattooed and pierced in David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, glitters as a young woman struggling with depression after her husband (Channing Tatum) is released from prison. Mara’s performance is a stunning combination of heart-wrenching vulnerability and a chilling menace that hides behind her eyes, willing itself to spring free through the adorable exterior. Dragon Tattoo may have been strong, but it’s Side Effects that cements her as a bona fide leading lady.

Providing ample support is Jude Law as an initially tender and later suspicious doctor, who realises there may be more to Mara’s situation than just a case of depression. Tatum is a slight problem, but his meagre screen time means it’s difficult to see his woodenness through the trees. Ann Dowd, as Tatum’s mother, is thoroughly wasted off the back of her incredibly strong showing in the equally creepy Compliance. Her role amounts to little more than standing around and scowling.

The real strength of Side Effects lies in its intricate plotting and the measured pace of Scott Z Burns’ script. It initially plays out as a basic thriller, before turning into a critique of the pharmaceutical industry and then morphing into something entirely different and unexpected. The many twists of the narrative are teased out beautifully, with only one of the labyrinthine developments seeming out of place and unnecessary.

At a fairly lean 106 minutes, the film never outstays its welcome, but gives the audience plenty of time with the characters. The first half focuses on the continuing mental deterioration of Mara’s star, whilst a dramatic and incredibly sudden second act twist turns the action towards Jude Law. Both performances hold their own and the characters Burns has written give them plenty with which to work.

Side Effects is one of the most accomplished films of 2013 so far. In Rooney Mara’s complex central performance, Soderbergh has proved once again that he can get the best from his actors. Hopefully it won’t be the great man’s last film, but, if so, he’s certainly going out on one hell of a high.


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