Film Review: Side Effects

Note: This review contains mild spoilers 

  If Side Effects is indeed Steve Soderbergh's last cinematic outing, then it constitutes a rather interesting bookend to his incredibly eclectic and prolific career. With Sex, Lies and Videotape, Soderbergh managed to create an almost genre-less film which kick-started the independent film movement and, much like Nirvana did at around the same time with rock music, caused the industry to re-evaluate their approach to lunk headed and overly braggadocios output. Side Effects, in keeping with Soderbergh's admirable inability to stick to one path in his creative career (showcasing a Micahel Windterbottom-esque approach to prolificism and eclecticism), takes the opposite course to his debut and, instead of eschewing genres all together, takes the approach of combining a number of separate tropes into one big, entertaining mash up.

   Many horror films, particularly those from the earlier days of Hollywood, featured mental illness and madness as the movies antagonists aimed at striking fear into the heart of the audiences. Mad scientists, in particular, represent stock characters as genre tropes. Side Effects, which features a premise in many ways similar to a horror film, gives the audience something more of a horrifying proposition to worry about - rather than unspeakable, non-understandable madness, what if the killer in the film was a relatable young woman (Roonery Mara) suffering only from the recognisable symptoms of depression? And what if her murderous actions were something she had little control over, brought about by prescription medicine assigned by her (not at all mad) psychiatrist (Jude Law)? The fact that any one of us could be responsible for murder is something a lot more terrifying to our rational minds than the idea that evil can only come from vampires and monsters.

   Soderbergh plays with genre conventions in this film in a way only a man on the top of his game, and with a complete understanding of the medium of cinema and audience manipulation, can and, in doing so, makes a film which is hard to categorise. Mainstream thriller, political drama, psychological horror and "innate indie movie" genre signifiers all show their head at some point during the movie as Soderbergh continually pulls the rug out from under the audience's feet if hubris gets the better of them by attempting to assume what the next turn will be in the labyrinthine plot. In the twisting and turning, slow burning approach to mystery, the genre hopping Side Effects most closely represents the genuinely tense, old-fashioned procedural thrillers typified by the likes of Alan J Pakula and All The President's Men.

   If this truly is Soderbergh's last cinematic release then it constitutes a rather decent way to exit stage left. It's a cineplex crowd pleaser of a movie (like the Ocean's Franchise and Out of Sight or Magic Mike), yet, as with Traffic and The Limey Soderbergh's film also has a subversive beating heart. In Side Effects Soderbergh makes it clear that it's possible to make crowd pleasing films for mass markets which also have intelligence, understanding and refined craftsmanship. It's a message that many in Hollywood could do with learning from and a fine epitaph for a peculiar, but never less than interesting, film maker.



  1. I really loved this film, sick and twisted but an all rounded head turner. Great review :)

    Reply Delete
    1. Thank you!
      Certainly very twisted (in every sense of the word I can think of) and highly enjoyable!


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