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The 400 Word Review: Side Effects

By Sean Collier

February 10, 2013

I regret that tattoo.

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America’s continued love affair with prescription medication, while a frequent topic of debate (and more than ample conspiracy-minded hoopla) in news and online, has been more or less given a wide swath by Hollywood. Perhaps it’s out of fear, as studios seek to avoid charges of slander by the long, litigious arms of the pill-makers; perhaps, though, there’s a more pedestrian explanation: dealing with addiction and its effects on-screen is, like, hard.

Steven Soderbergh, however, has found a way, and (no spoilers) it isn’t what you’d think. Rooney Mara stars as a young wife in bad shape; her dashing husband (Channing Tatum, obviously) is rounding out a prison term for insider trading (or something like that). He’ll be home soon, but he’s already talking about deals with other financiers he met on the inside.

After a bizarre car accident, the muddled missus finds herself consulting with a well-meaning psychiatrist (Jude Law); she’s badly in need of something to help with her serotonin levels, and whaddayaknow, he just happens to be part of a study on the effects of a new wonder-drug. Of course, he warns, there’s a chance of...the film’s title.

What unfolds is a suspenseful small-cast guessing game, every bit as dark and mysterious as a good horror flick — while operating as a straight drama. Twists and developments come at unexpected intervals, plot structure be damned; while a thread will unwind slowly, it’s nearly impossible to predict what’s coming. Don’t get up for popcorn.

Rooney Mara is finding herself occupying the headspace of damaged young women almost exclusively — don’t forget, even before she got that Dragon Tattoo, she was dueling with Freddy Krueger — but she’s good enough to make this character complex and distinctive. Tatum charms, as always; Law is sympathetic. The fourth part of the top-billed quartet is Catherine Zeta-Jones, who doesn’t sink the ship (but has certainly lost her way.)




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The turns get wild in the film's second half, and there will be viewers that question the realism of the outcome — but where's the fun in that? Behind powerful, compelling performances, Side Effects succeeds as a gripping, tense thriller. Where some films would force in a heavy-handed dose of social commentary, Soderbergh's movie concerns itself instead with providing an easy night's entertainment with a satisfying payoff. Side Effects is a movie that could trouble you. But you’ll still be glad you went.


     


 
 

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