Monday, 18 March 2013

Side Effects, dir. Steven Soderbergh, wr. Scott Z. Burns, st. Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

Call it extended leave, sabbatical, retirement or voluntary redundancy, the release of Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh's 23rd feature, coincided with news that the director was to step down from film-making. Whatever his reasons - lack of excitement, disillusionment with the industry, a desire to forge a new career as a painter - one's apprehensive about the old adage that suggests you're only remembered for the last thing you did, and as perceptive and intelligent as Soderbergh often tends to be behind the lens, for every Videotape, Solaris or Ocean's 11, there's a Good German, Ocean's 12 or Ocean's 13. Thank goodness then that Side Effects is a palpable hit, chock full of winning performances and marrying together a kind of retro-90s-thriller sensibility with a contemporary style and concept that taps into current pharmaceuticals-as-commerce fear and advancement. Rooney Mara and her deceptive stoicism is pretty much a dead-on casting choice as Emily Taylor, a gamine slip of a wife whose husband has just been released from prison after serving four years for insider trading. After accidentally on purpose running her car into her basement car park wall, she's referred to psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Law) who attempts to diagnose her depression and prescribes the new SSRI wonderdrug Ablixa. Generally I make it a rule not to be much impressed by Law's body of work. There's an artificiality about the way he delivers even the most intricately woven dialogue that never fails to take me out of the moment. Fortunately, he's on rare form here, ably assisted by Scott Z. Burns' other-worldly screenplay that puts Banks firmly in the middle of an increasingly nightmarish maelstrom of deception and duplicity. 'Hitchcockian' will inevitably be a term used to describe the sense of claustrophobia and malevolence that rage against our protagonist, but the tone owes more to Cronenberg or even Argento - Thomas Newman's twangling guitars and Goblins-style music-box instrumentation respectively evoking sonic markers of both directors. Certainly there're some neat visual nods to physical - or at least internally chemical - disfigurement. Side Effects then, if it is to be Soderbergh's swan-song, ends a career - or at least an era - with much narrative and technical artistry on display, and plenty of stimulating subject matter to chew on. So no cause for concern; Soderbergh's cinematic epitaph is assured.