Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh, 2013)

Cleverly capitalizing on our nation’s growing dependence on the pharmaceutical industry, Side Effects hones in on young Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) as her husband’s (Channing Tatum) pending release from prison causes a lingering bout with depression to unpleasantly resurface. Confiding in an affluent psychiatrist (Jude Law), Emily predictably resorts to prescription meds for a quick fix, however things transition from bad to worse when a tragic event throws the young twentysomethings’ lives into turmoil once again. What ensues is certainly not what you’d expect – a frequently taut effort benchmarked by Soderbergh’s saavy stylistic sensibilities and previous collaborator Burns’ (Contagion) stellar, sometimes outlandish but always surprising script.

Timeliness is most certainly a factor throughout the proceedings, the aforementioned prescription drug craze remaining front and center as doctor(s) and patient alike consort with one another in an attempt to solve the latter’s existential woes, the latest of which being an unspeakable crime that lands her in a psychiatric hospital awaiting trial. Considering how difficult it is to avoid spewing out crucial narrative spoilers, let’s just call that bit “Twist #1” as the rest of them come in droves toward the film’s latter half, each of which growing more preposterously entertaining than the last.

Despite a slow-burning first act, Side Effects builds to an exceptional climax while allowing its beauty to exist within the details laid before us. The script’s narrative intricacies are where a bulk of the film’s value lies, playing out a bit more plausibly than typical Hollywood fare as Jude Law’s Dr. Banks slowly but surely pieces together the clues procured on the way to clearing his name in the wake of a financially (and socially) crippling scandal. Needless to say, dramatic highs are aplenty, spiking at just the right intervals so as to suck us back in when a procedural low begins to set in regarding the doctor’s ongoing efforts.

Generally speaking, Side Effects supports the claim that Soderbergh’s gone out with a bang, his (supposed) last feature carrying with it the figurative personality we’ve come to expect and adore, visceral integrity and all. Coupled with Burns’ remarkably intelligent, laudably twist-laden script, the entire production comfortably engages at each juncture as questions are answered and startling details come to light. With all-around praiseworthy performances breathing life into the multifaceted players in this pharmaceutically-driven tale of deception, money and manipulation, Side Effects sports a rarely seen full package that competently if quietly surpasses other genre efforts.

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