Thursday, March 21, 2013

Side Effects

Love is a Drug

It's been quite some time since we last had a medical thriller, and Steven Soderbergh presents a tight thriller worthy of being one of the best in recent years, revisiting his usual themes of morality and lying, with writer Scott Z. Burns crafting an absolutely layered story that worked on multiple levels, dealing with the triviality in prescription medicine being dispensed with strings attached. If at first you had thought only the software industry is licensed in releasing buggy products that may manifest anomalies in certain situations, you'd start pondering about that of the pharmaceuticals as well, with side effects being something part and parcel to the unfortunate few whose DNA disagrees with what's generally accepted by critical mass.

But this is never that boring medical movie with heavy courtroom themes or one that's spewing plenty of medical mumbo jargon that would overwhelm you. The brilliance of the story was in how it will bring it down to a level that's identifiable to the layman, and presented that clear and present danger that any of us could be susceptible to, especially with the rather option-less situation of having believe the professional sitting across you is having your best interests at heart. Medical science is still a science, with its own risks, warts and all, and that little indemnity form still carries weight, especially when agreeing to be guinea pigs for something new in the market.

And there are plenty of bits and pieces shrewdly introduced that contains criticism of the state of industry, hinting at the undue influence through the wheelings and dealings that are part of the sales representative arsenal, and those responsible for prescription who has to face rich perks being dangled, besides that ultimate look at how businesses are still businesses, with economics 101 very much over-ruling ethics, since ethics become quite cumbersome to translate into a healthy balance sheet.

Enveloping these issues that will set you pondering, is that whodunnit mystery thriller that's the obvious facade in the film. Rooney Mara plays Emily, a woman suffering from depression, manifesting itself violently when she rams her car straight on into a concrete wall. Treating her is psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who becomes her shrink and soon finds his professional and personal life turned upside down in the aftermath of Emily's apparently crime that was committed under the state induced by prescriptive medicine. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, with the story delving very much deeper into the rabbit hole when Banks starts to discover that everything is more than what meets the eye, turning the entire story upside down from what we're lulled into believing from the onset. It has all the trappings of an incredibly well crafted thriller and Burns deserves all accolades to have made this happen.

Truth be told I wasn't very impressed with Rooney Mara's turn as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, given that it was nothing but a relatively poorer version of Noomi Rapace's interpretation of the same iconic character. In Side Effects Mara demonstrates why she's the actress that I had failed to see in that mentioned film, since here she had presented a lot of facets to an unassuming character, leaving you wondering if she's crazy or not, depressed or not, or being that actress within that actress that poses the most danger through playacting.

Jude Law also pulled in an intense performance as the professional caught with his pants down professionally and personally, and finding it a challenge to fight the system, and obstacles in his way, fairly alone. It's that everyday, working man role under extraordinary circumstances that would make you sympathetic to the slime being levelled at him, although what he does also threads that moral shade of grey, that makes it all the more engaging. Fans of Catherine Zeta-Jones would welcome her more substantial role of hers in recent years here as Emily's previous psychiatrist whose payload would cement this film as

Steven Soderbergh presents Side Effects effectively low key, but packing a powerful punch in all aspects of production. The cinematography has this distinct, clean look and feel to it, and most times giving you the feeling that the characters were truly alone in facing up to their respective situations, lensed devoid of emotion to prevent a sequence of events that's stark, serious, and without a hint of sympathy.

Soderbergh's direction in what is reportedly his final film, is again non intrusive, leading the movie like an invisible hand without the necessity of gimmick shocks, twists and turns, but presenting these elements in very slick, sophisticated terms that you're hardly aware of their presence until you stop to think about them. It is this quality that paces the film in clockwork like, efficient fashion against a commendable score by Thomas Newman, making it one of the best films of the year to date. A definite recommend!

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