Side Effects: Why the thumbs down

Posted: March 5, 2013 by jennroig in Commentary, English, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Spoiler Alert!!!!

I’m there, I don’t move even though the film has ended. The last scene fades, but I can’t take my eyes away from the screen. The Evil has been punished, the Good has succeeded. Everything seems more of the same for Hollywood standards.

Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh, 2013

But I can’t avoid to think there’s something wrong, something is missing. I have been tricked. The credits start rolling, I checked the names of the artistic team, then the technicians, but I can’t manage to remember at this point any of them, except for Soderbergh’s. This is supposed to be Steven Soderbergh‘s last film. I’ve just watched Side Effects.

I watched Side Effects while I was in New York. I shared the experience with a friend who happens to teach cinematographic appreciation for a living, and who might be the person that I’ve seen conducting the best cinematographic analyses ever. I saw her immutable face, and out of respect, and due to the need to be very careful because I don’t want her to doubt my judgement, I said: “I still don’t know whether I liked it or not”. And then she dropped me a bomb by saying: “Me neither”.

Sigh! We walked our way back home -she was hosting me- while discussing the film.

First of all, Side Effects is not one more film by Steven Soderbergh, it’s the film that it is supposed to end his career as filmmaker. In case someone has no idea who Soderbergh is, let me say he’s the name you mention when it comes to films that intend to criticize some social misbehavior, or problem, or unjustice. Soderbergh is the kind of intellectual you would say shows a social consciousness. He has directed films such as Haywire, both pieces about Che Guevara, Traffic, and Erin Brockovich, even if he has the skill to direct Magic Mike, Ocean Eleven’s aga and The Limey.

There’s atmosphere, there’s suspense, there are some good and not so good performances -none of us ended up buying Catherine Zeta-Jones as the psychiatrist- and there are some very good moments like that of Rooney Mara killing Channing Tatum.

What was missing then? There are two films blend together in the script. And the second one is definitely worse than the promise the first part does.

As many critics and civilians have pointed out so far, at the beginning the film leads us to believe that it’s making a huge critique to a system and a culture that in the USA encourage and support a massive consumption of  all kind of drugs that are supposed to help people to keep funtioning. Drugs that make you sleep, drugs that keep you awake, drugs to keep you focused, drugs to calm you so you won’t get angry, drugs for better sex, drugs to keep you safe from sadness… side1Ultimately, the plot was giving you arguments and data that would definitely condemn the big farmaceutical corporations, the psychiatric healthcare turned into a highly profitable business, and a civil society that looks and don’t react.

Thus, you feel sorry for this poor wife who seems to be doomed to chronic depression, in reckless pain that can only be relived by some drugs on trial. And then she kills her husband, to whom she dearly loved, under the influence of the drug so you find yourself in the dilemma of whom to blame. Is she a killer or a victim? Either way, drugs certainly suck and should be regulated!

Then the story gets more complex. Her psychiatrist –Jude Law– feels also the ethical dilemma. Is he the actual killer by proxy? To what extent is he responsible? To this point the film was promising, we believed Soderbergh has said goodbye to cinema setting the standards higher.  But from this point on, some threads don’t seem clear, you start suspecting this is not going where it’s supposed to go.

Long story short: the wife was never on drugs, she killed him for some dark financial reason, something related to speculating with the stocks market and the value of the company that produced the drug. And to do so, she counted with the support of her lesbian lover, Catherine  Zeta-Jones. Jude Law must fight to clean his name and reputation, and recover his family, against these bitches who came up with such evil scheme.

Rooney Mara

Rooney Mara

So, with this end, there’s no criticism can stand. The girl was never on drugs, so no one can blame them. And even the statistics and some other cases that were mentioned to support the belief that she was not a random or exceptional case but part of a forming trend are no longer valid. The farmaceutical industry is left unharmed. No claim made to rethink the way Americans consume drugs.

So, we had just watched a clever plot, with plenty of twists, and intelligent ways and timing to hide and show key information. But no meaning. No wonder I felt cheated. This isn’t Soderbergh, this can’t be Soderbergh’s last film.

Conclusion: we didn’t like it. At all.

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