Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ten Statements About....SIDE EFFECTS (2013)

She might look like a wounded bird...but even wounded
birds have beaks that can peck your eyes out...

1) This is a film that could not have been done if Steve Soderbergh hadn't discovered Rooney Mara.  At one point a character refers to Mara's Emily as 'attractive, but with a wounded bird quality,' and that's Mara to the T.  There's something about her eyes that seems perpetually haunted, even as she goes through several transformations and reveals during the course of the film's running time.  Plus, since she's still a relatively unknown face to most viewers (unlike, let's say, Olivia Wilde or Blake Lively, both of whom were cast at one time), which makes the world of the film seem more real.

2) ...but then that's one of the things that makes Soderbergh Soderbergh.  He is not interested in telling a straightforward story, which is why the film morphs several times, changing the tone, the style, and even the P.O.V. of the story whenever it suits him.  Hell, there are moments where the film becomes something of a tone poem (much like one of my favorite films he directed, The Limey), where it appears he's more interested in painting with pictures rather than telling a story.
Of course he's a thoughtful leading man...he's British and stuff....

3) And given that the A-to-B story is not exactly Soderbergh's prime concern, the revelation about Jude Law's Dr. Banks having a situation with a patient early in his career is never fully explored.  We hear his side of the story, but we're never told if he is telling the truth or if he's lying to his wife (played by Vinessa Shaw)....and I rather like that.  Not knowing if he did take advantage of a patient or not both puts him in contrast with Catherine Zeta-Jones' Dr. Seibert, and gives his ultimate choice in how to handle the situation a dark and satisfying shade of ambiguity.

4) That being said, I do feel one of the weaknesses is Dr. Seibert, who is never given the proper depth to make her appear more than a cardboard character from the worst kind of syndicated melodrama.  This isn't Zeta-Jones' fault; the writing when it comes to her is just too stiff for her to be taken seriously, especially in the last act.

5) I love how Soderbergh photographs New York as a place that's recognizable, but also somewhat weird and scary at times.  There are particular moments where he does these transitions that make this city a fairy tale land...which bolsters the whole dreamlike quality of the use of medication that Emily is going though.

6) Given the structure of this film, I have to wonder if this is Soderbergh's tribute to Hitchcock, especially given the way the first act plays out.

7) I certainly appreciate how Soderbergh populates his world with actors we may not have seen before--there are a number of actors in minor roles in this film (particularly Scott Shepherd, Michael Nathanson and Shelia Tapia) who are unfamiliar to the average viewer, but are so good they help build up the veracity of the world these characters move through.

8) I love how Soderbergh trusts in his actors and his story enough to let large stretches of it take place sans a music bed, which also allows us to make the decisions as to what is happening.  More filmmakers, who seem to feel that we need a constant aural assault to guide us emotionally through every single twist and turn, could learn a lesson from this.
"Yeah, they're taking me back to that G.I. Joe movie..
'cause now people think I'm coo'....

9) Boy, Channing Tatum...once more you get a relatively thankless role.  But on the other hand, I guess you're grateful Justin Timberlake turned it down to return to music.

10) This is another movie that seems to delight in giving us multiple endings.  There are easily three points in the film's back end where it could end definitively.  And while I like the ultimate ending, and the film's final tracking shot that makes it seem like everything is not wrapped up as neatly as it seems, I can see how it might aggravate some viewers.

Overall...a cerebral little thriller that works due to the steady hand of Soderbergh, some good performances and a twisting, chimerical tone and plot.  If this is Soderbergh's final bow (I pray it isn't), it's a comfort to know he has gone out with something just as strange and beautiful as his first film.

It was another trip to the Atlas, where I am still trying to get used to the parishoners of the True Faith Church wandering around in the morning.  There was more problems with the digital projector, as we had to deal with some of the eight (eight!) trailers without sound.  Amongst the most interesting of these were The Last Exorcism II (which seems to have abandoned the found footage bullshit and decided to tell a cinematic story...still, it's got Eli Fucking Roth stank on it), the new trailer for G.I. Joe Retribution, and the strangely compelling one for Baz Luhrmann's version of The Great Gatsby, which features Carey Mulligan in flapper mufti (Yes, I am there).  On the other hand, I really wish someone would point out that Oblivion still looks dreadfully boring, and no amount of Sandra Bullock could compel me to see The Heat, which is a prime example of why I hate modern comedies.

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