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See “Side Effects”

Claire Stephens | Thursday, February 14, 2013


“Side Effects” is a diamond in the rough of movies currently in theaters, made up of a compelling storyline among a lot of iffy dramas and outright bad action and comedy flick moments.

While the plot is certainly an intriguing story to follow and unravel, the incredible performances by Jude Law, Rooney Mara and Catherine Zeta-Jones make the movie (with an appropriately limited amount of Channing Tatum as well). Most of all, “Side Effects” resembles director Steven Soderbergh’s film “Contagion,” using the incredible star power of the actors to sell the size and complexity of the plot.

Soderbergh creates an atmosphere that blurs the line between sanity and delusion, putting the audience in a place very similar to the main characters: under the influence of the drug-like style that gives the action a sense of urgency and suspense throughout the film. The movie is evenly paced, leaving the audience in a constant state of mystery, wonder and subtle fear.

The story follows Emily (Rooney Mara), who becomes anxious and depressed around the time her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is finally released from four years of prison for insider trading. After Emily’s suicide attempt, Dr. Banks (Jude Law) takes her in as a patient, prescribing a new experimental anti-depressant suggested by Emily’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones). 

The side effects of the medication change the lives of the people around her and bring to light the tricky questions of morality and legality surrounding the treatment of the mentally unwell. The main character’s actions and state of mind leave the audience constantly on edge in a state of suspense, wondering what she might do next in her fragile state of mind.

While Law and Zeta-Jones can be relied on for well-played dramatic performances (in this case, convincing doctors), Mara continues to rise in the critics’ eyes and show her talent in each Hollywood performance. Law’s role as the protagonist brings in the audience’s emotions, vicariously trying to understand the truth, morality and mystery of what is happening. Mara draws in the audience like a moth to the flame, just as her character Emily does to all those around her in the movie. After “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Mara has found another chance to shine alongside the big stars well known for their acting chops.

Credit for the subtle suspense and intrigue of the film must also be given to the composer.  The accompanying score sounds like a fairy tale spinning out of control, the clock tinkering out of time to understand what is going wrong.  A quiet darkness and a hazy, looming cloud of doubt pervades every scene, making the audience constantly wonder what is really happening and who to believe.

If you’re going to hit the movie theaters and are looking for an engaging and entertaining drama, “Side Effects” is your best bet, especially in the current dry spell of high quality films following the flood of Oscar nominees from winter break.