Saturday, March 9, 2013

Review: "Side Effects"

Films released before the Academy Awards are often forgotten and ignored in the lead up to the ceremony. Even Side Effects, said to be Steven Soderbergh's last film prior to retiring. Unfortunately, the film is nowhere near as good as his previous successes, such as Traffic (2001), Ocean's Eleven (2001), and even the more recent Contagion (2011) and Haywire (2012). It just felt too far-fetched for me. I am over Rooney Mara as an actress. Oscar-nominated for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Mara just does not bring enough energy to the role. Channing Tatum, in a dramatic turn, is unable to bring enough passion to the role. And Jude Law is almost as pitiful as Catherine Zeta-Jones, who has not been in a decent film since 2002's Chicago. I was lured by the film's 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes - especially when it is hard to find a decent title in February - but there were far too many similarities to Alain Corneau's French film Crime d'amour (Love Crime). Unfortunately, said 2010 film starring Kristen Scott Thomas, was already remade in 2012 as Passion, coincidentally starring the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Noomi Rapace, alongside Rachel McAdams. The bulk of the film's attention has centred around its stance on antidepressant drugs and mental illness, but David O.Russell's Silver Linings Playbook is a much more realistic and enjoyable film. With a running time of 106 minutes, Side Effects can barely be called a long film, but I was bored throughout and found the climax desperate. Catherine Zeta-Jones' performance (like her lip-syncing at the Oscars) was a far cry from her heyday. Side Effects is exactly the kind of sleek movie I would expect Steven Soderbergh to make. He has assembled a cast of award-nominated actors and up-and-comers. Despite, or perhaps in spite, of this he offers audiences a crazy tale of drug-induced murder that seems as believable as an episode of Gossip Girl.

Martin Taylor (Tatum) is about to be released from prison after serving four years for inside trading. His wife Emily (Mara), somewhat unstable, has difficulty accepting Martin's desire to return to their previous lifestyle. Shortly after his return, Emily drives her car into a concrete wall. At the hospital, she is assigned a psychiatrist who believes that her accident was a suicide attempt. The psychiatrist, Dr. Banks (Law), agrees to release Emily on the condition that she attends regular therapy sessions. Dr. Banks prescribes a series of anti-depressants, and after consulting with Emily's previous doctor in Connecticut (Zeta-Jones), her gives her a prescription for the experimental drug Ablixa. A side effect of the drug is sleepwalking, and one night Emily stabs and kills Martin. Emily's trial is more of a hassle for Dr. Banks, who entire life begins to unravel.

Channing Tatum's casting and performance are hardly necessary in the film, as his character's death happens early on. I am sure that he was cast simply to pique the interest of young women (and me, perhaps). Yet, he really is not a great actor. A very pretty face, but are we supposed to believe that he is capable of working int he corporate world? And being smart enough (or stupid enough?) to be convicted of insider trading? So many films suffer when they reach the final act, and Side Effects is no exception. With Emily in an institution, and Dr. Banks working to get his practice and family back, the plot crumbles due to far too many crazy complications and revelations. Perhaps we can blame screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, whose previous screen credits include Soderbergh's The Informant! (2009) and Contagion. Both films were guilty of being too far-fetched. Side Effects has a decent premise, but with a more sure-handed script without one-dimensional characters, the actors may have had a better chance.

My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4.

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