'Side Effects' (2013) Movie Review

Rooney Mara in Side Effects
Rooney Mara in Side Effects
Photo: Open Road Films

Side Effects begins with a slow pan moving in on an apartment window reminiscent of the classic opening to Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho and the comparison to the Master of Suspense couldn't be more apt. Director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns (Contagion) have crafted a thrilling feature that will be all the better the less you know. That being the case, don't expect too much plot exposition from me. In fact, stop reading now and just go see the movie... that's my recommendation.

Side Effects
Grade: A-

Side Effects"Side Effects" is a Open Road Films release, directed by Steven Soderbergh and is rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language.

The cast includes Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vinessa Shaw, Mamie Gummer and Ann Dowd.

My press screening invite came with the following notice: "Per studio directive, due to the non-linear nature of the film absolutely no press, guests, etc. will be admitted to the film once it has begun." At the door to the theater a similar directive was laid out that went further, adding that showing up late would make your viewing of the film "unrewarding". I told the press agent, as I walked in, this should be a standing directive for all films, but what do I know?

Like a classic Hitchock tale and '40s noir thrillers, Side Effects is a film with something new around each and every corner, and characters as enticing as its thrilling narrative, of which to know nearly anything is to know too much. Yet, I'm willing to give you just the subtlest of hints if it means getting you into the theater to see it opening weekend.

Rooney Mara, in her first major role since starring in David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, taps into a little of what made Lisbeth Salander so intriguing, but where Lisbeth's emotions were kept largely in check, Mara's Emily Taylor runs the gamut. Mara is asked to play anywhere from catatonic to jubilant in a role young actresses should have been crawling over one another to play. It's a performance signaling Mara as an actress with so much more to offer than her limited filmography led us to believe. Here, she puts it all on display.

Emily's husband (Channing Tatum) has just gotten out of jail where he spent the last four years for insider trading, and yet, for all the joy she's feeling, a recurring bout with depression is about to set in. She finds herself a doctor, anti-depressants are prescribed and the story moves forward from there.

Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones play integral roles as doctors that have, at one time or another, treated Emily as portions of the film weigh the ethics of prescription drugs and the interests of the prescribing doctors. The rest you'll need to learn on your own.

Soderbergh makes good use of a minimalistic score from Thomas Newman and once again serves as his own director of photography (working under the pseudonym Peter Andrews) and offers up his familiar washed out, yet pristine visuals and enticing angles, adding another level of intrigue to a truly engaging feature.

Side Effects is a film that's only going to benefit from repeat viewings. Once it ended I could very easily have sat through it again. This is an old school kind of noir feature and one it seems only right Soderbergh direct and hopefully it will find some kind of traction with audiences and be a break out hit, though I fear the lack of ambiguity and hit-em-over-the-head plot turns may hurt its chances.


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  • http://letterboxd.com/ragingtaxidrver/ RagingTaxiDriver

    I tried to resist reading your review and have adopted your method of not watching trailers from now on, but I gave in and read only the bottom third. Sounds like it will meet my expectations, and a very nice review from what I've read.

    • http://www.criterion.com/my_criterion/27913-criterion10 Criterion10

      That's actually how I usually read most reviews. I skim them, skipping over the parts that give away plot details. Then, after I see the film, I go back and read the entire review.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

        Yes, in the most recent podcast, I heard B and L state that they choose not to watch trailers. What a concept! I too, plan to adopt this philosophy.
        And to skim the review, waiting until I've had a chance to see the film before I go back to read the full review.
        I'm pretty sure this will enhance my movie viewing pleasure!

  • http://www.criterion.com/my_criterion/27913-criterion10 Criterion10

    Wow, I really can't wait for this one. Soderbergh's the top of director that just manages to make really entertaining, well-made films. Magic Mike was pure evidence of this. Very excited.

  • adu

    Wow, an A- in January!
    Brad, you gotta be psyched for this year going forward :)

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Snicket/ Justin

      It releases February 8th :P

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Avatar/ Avatar

    Any Oscar worthy performances? I'm sorry if you already addressed this in your review, but I'd rather not until I watch the movie.

    • SP1234

      Judging from the remarks, I will say Rooney could easily be an early contender for either this or Ain't Them Bodies Saints, which recieved good word-of-mouth at Sundance. Just like 2012, 2013 will have a very competitive lead actress race. Mara, Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Marion Cotillard (Lowlife) and Carey Mulligan (Gatsby) are among my early contenders.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

    Brad be loving them Side Effects... I liked it quite a bit as well. It's just a solid, crowd-pleasing thriller. At times, it's plot feels a little "lifetime-y" though. But I feel like that might have been the point. Soderbergh just wanted to make a simple and utterly enjoyable thriller. I wanted more prescription drug commentary though. But I do feel like I want to see it again.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      I would love to comment on your last sentence, but I think that would be too spoilery.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

        A little discussion article would be awesome for this one I think.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

        Is it too "spoily" to comment on the acting in this film? I am quite curious.
        I have inadvertently already seen the preview. It made me very intrigued.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/0Freeman./ 0Freeman.

        Yes a discussion article on Side Effects would be great. I just saw it today and I'll say it was a lot different than what I expected but it was still very well made. A good film and glad it was how I started off 2013 in the theater.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

      Your comments lower my expectations (the term "crowd-pleaser" is never a positive). Too bad there isn't more of an emphasis on Big Pharma.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Aleonardis/ Aleonardis

        It's crowd pleasing feeling is basically, the same type of feeling as you got from the Haywire ending, for comparison. Soderbergh's crowd pleasing is different compared to the mainstream definition of the word.

  • Jarrod

    "My press screening invite came with the following notice: "Per studio directive, due to the non-linear nature of the film absolutely no press, guests, etc. will be admitted to the film once it has begun.""

    This should be the rule to any press screening. Why the crap should a film reviewer be late to a film that they are reviewing?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      That's pretty much what I said, but like I wrote in the review, "what do I know?"

    • http://www.criterion.com/my_criterion/27913-criterion10 Criterion10

      Hitchcock actually used this same tactic with Psycho. Audience members were not allowed into the film once the credits began. And if you want to take it even a step further, Henri Georges-Clouzot used this same tactic for Diabolique. Pretty interesting, especially since Brad's review mentions the clear Hitchcockian atmosphere of the film.

  • Nick

    Awesome. Can't wait for this.


    Feb. 8 can't come soon enough for me. Sly Stallone and Warm Zombies just don't excite me this weekend.

    • MajorFilmFan

      Warm Bodies excites me, because it's directed by Johnathan Levine, who made one of my favorite movies of 2011, '50/50', plus it seems really inventive.

      • Torryz

        Maybe your right. I haven't been to the movies in a couple of weeks and if a lot of people like it I'll see it. I'm going through withdrawal......

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/CoryS./ Cory S.

    THE Soderbergh goes out with a bang. I can't freaking wait for this. I hope and pray this "retirement" is short. Real short.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

    Is there a way to pull up all your reviews based on the letter grade you give? Like I wanted to pull up all your A+ and A movies chronologically from most recent.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Yes, just click on Reviews in the navigation and then the "Search the Movie Review Archives" button in the right hand column.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/navaneethks/ navaneethks

        Sweet! Thank you very much!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Kessler/ Kessler

    It's sad to see Soderbergh retiring, but according to your review, at least he goes out with a high note. Personally I was underwhelmed by Magic Mike, but Side Effects seems to be right up my alley. Here's hoping I like it just as much as you did!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

    What is the word on why he is retiring?

    • Susan

      Basically, Soderbergh has said that the joy he gets from the movie coming out and the talk around it doesn't match the amount of work he puts into making it.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

        I will consider it a loss when he retires. But after he has no film work to waste his time on, he may change his mind! Or write a screen play!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

    Well, that's one A grade to kick off February! At least Soderberg "leaves" on a high note.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

    Glad you liked it, I can't wait for this one. Rooney Mara looks really good here, glad she's finally getting major roles after Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Rest of cast (including Tatum, Jones & Law) looks great as usual with Soderbergh movies. Sad to see Soderbergh go though, love his work. Hope he leaves me satisfied with this.

  • Charles Ritter

    Did you ever think the movie was gonna end multiple times? Not in a bad way, but it seemed to be coming to a close just to move onto another scene.

  • http://cinemaconfessions.blogspot.com Gautam

    Brad, No doubt I liked the film, especially its unexpected twists but I have two serious issues with the film. Would like to know what you think of it ?

    [Spoiler Alert] First, The way Emily and Dr.Siebert pulled off the whole thing, the details they worked on, obviously means that both are smart, cunning people. What really bugged me was how easily they were tricked by Dr. Banks. Come on, just by seeing Siebert and Banks converse, Emily believes both have some deal going on. Isn't that pretty dumb. Same goes with Siebert, when she sees Banks giving the statement in favor of Emily, didn't she think that something fishy is going on. I believe to build character that are smart, especially Mara's and then suddenly to turn them dumb was a bit silly. I think, the film would have benefited if Emily had the final say, by tricking Banks again.

    Second issue, I don't have much to say, except I wasn't convinced by Emily's reason to kill Martin. Nowhere is it implied that Emily hated Martin to the degree that she wanted to kill him. Neither is she crazy about Siebert otherwise she won't have believed Banks in the first place. If she killed him for money, well then, again that's also not too convincing.

    Overall, in the middle of the film I thought I was going to love this, but in the end all these issues stuck out like a sore thumb.

  • MovieMan12

    I thoroughly enjoyed 'Side Effects'. I thought it was a very fine job for Soderbergh's supposed film to retire from cinema. About half way through the movie I had so many variations on how the story was going to conclude, but was completely wrong by the time the answers started to pop up. I highly recommend that this be the movie anyone watch over the other current releases. It is always good to watch a film that makes you think and pay close attention to the narrative to follow what is going on.

  • qts

    am i the only one who hated this film?

    not the first half, which i enjoyed, but for the way it deals with the story in the second half, side effects doesn't even deserve to be called a thriller
    why do i need to know that jude law's wife loses a job, for example?

    shallow characters, shallow twists and what i would dare to call a cheap shot with the whole unexpected sexual relationship thing in the end

    • http://thebioscopist.com TheBioscopist

      Nope, I left disappointment too. The script was weak and the twist was nothing to write home about. I agree with you about the first half, which i think was mainly down to the good performance from Jude Law. The final act is not worthy of the setup. An A- cinema score is very generous, and I'm a fan of Soderbergh's work. I have a feeling this would be a score Brad reduces in the future. No Oscars for this one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

    I have avoided reading this review for months so as not to ruin the plot. I was delighted and surprised to have Side Effects return to the cinema in my city. So I frantically rushed out to see it friday. Brad, you were right in saying this film would benefit from multiple viewings.
    I saw it with a few people who were constantly leaning over to me saying "wft, what just happened? What does this mean? I don't get it"! Well, after all of those interruptions, I was staring to lose my own comprehension of the story line. So as soon as it comes to VOD I will be watching it again. But what I did get was fantastic. Im not decided about the last scene. From what I gathered, the interpretation is up to the audience.