Tuesday, March 5, 2013
SIDE EFFECTS (2013)
Director Steven Soderbergh’s professed final feature film begins as a tacit critique of our over-medicated culture, from pharmaceutical companies saturating the market with psychotropic medications to ethically challenged doctors testing them on patients to compliant consumers turning to chemicals as a first resort. But then Scott Z. Burns’ clever script alters its makeup and transforms into a winding thriller where greed, deceit and betrayal are more lethal than any side effect. Four years earlier Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) had her life and marriage torn apart when, soon after the nuptials, hedge fund manager husband Martin (Channing Tatum) earns a prison term for insider trading. Shunted from her upstate mansion to a Manhattan apartment, Emily works and waits for Martin’s return. When that day arrives she has an emotional breakdown and drives her car into a wall. This suicide attempt leads her into the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist with a growing practice and lucrative, well-funded drug studies on the side. After several prescriptions fail to help, Banks consults with Emily’s former upstate analyst Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who suggests he try the antidepressant Ablixa. The new drug works wonders on Emily’s mood but causes her to sleepwalk for extended periods. During one such sleepwalking incident Emily commits an act of shocking violence, and someone must pay. Burns and Soderbergh use subtle misdirection and sharp casting to deftly manipulate audience empathy. With a face that invites sympathy while maintaining aloofness Mara makes for a convincing depressive. Likewise Law treads the fine line between sincere concern and suspect opportunism, while Zeta-Jones hints at the repressed urges bubbling under her brittle professional demeanor. Once the story evolves, however, the filmmakers upturn expectations and skillfully navigate each slippery twist to a satisfying, morally ambiguous conclusion. Throughout his career Soderbergh has proven to be an exemplary film craftsman, and here he is at the top of his game. It would be a shame if this truly were his swan song.