Film review: “Side Effects” (2013)

A very interesting suspense thriller from stem to stern on several levels of intricacy director Stephen Soderbergh is famous for. Begins as a routine expose’ and indictment of manipulative pharmaceuticals that create demand for their products by glib advertising to the lay public and greedy physicians who take money for “recruiting” patients. Soderbergh smoothly lulls the audience into a bit of a yawn; all this has all been worked in the national news.

The audience fairly weeps for the young woman incapacitated by depression, unable to function even in simple social occasions. A pathetic creature that aches for redemption. Enter the wily, perceptive and sharp-witted psychiatrist who tries to sort out her difficulties electively during office hours.  Ultimately, numerous psychoactive medications are tried, none work.

The patient then sees an advertisement for a new anti-depressant on TV and asks to try it. The psychiatrist, eager to try any thing that will improve the situation, eagerly prescribes it, and in time discovers a previously poorly documented side effect, somnambulism (sleep-walking) and is sucked into the events that follow.

Soderbergh doesn’t let the audience in on the aftermath too soon or too quickly but progressively, the entire complexion smoothly and eloquently changes. It’s difficult or impossible to perceive some of the changes in real time. They become apparent at Soderbergh’s leisure, another example of the director’s commitment to subtle but profound film craftsmanship.

Ultimately, this film draws a masterful portrait of sociopaths.  Invariably intelligent creatures with personal magnetism and strong organizational ability.  Charlie Manson and a host of quasi-evangelists come to mind. You cannot manage them. They manage you. They don’t perceive there is anything is wrong with them and they are contemptuous of those who seek to understand them.  They are capable of ruthless projects that would over run Genghis Khan. Given enough rope, however, sociopaths always arrive at the pathologic outcome they build for themselves.

Integral to this process is the truly masterful performance of Rooney Mara, an actress that gave a rather monochromatic performance in “Girl with the Dragon tattoo (2011)”.  No more. She burns up the screen with her portrayal of the pathetic broken little bird and the transformation that follows. Jude Law puts in a masterful performance of the psychiatrist savvy and resourceful enough to play multiple sociopaths against each other like a Stradivarius.

Best quip:  “Girls learn to start faking things about the same time boys learn how to lie”

Best part:  The masterful transition Ms. Mara brings to life when she ultimately recites the truth.

Not so best part: the issue of pharmaceutical dishonesty is glossed over as a diversion and could have been left out completely.

I give it 4.5 broken birds.  Rooney Mara in a  “Must See” role.


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