February 23, 2013

Side Effects

Spoiler-Free Mini-Review
Side Effects is a creepy little thriller about a prescription drug called Ablixa, and one patient (Rooney Mara) who begins exhibiting disturbing side effects after this drug is prescribed to her by her doctor (Jude Law). She's trying to start a new life with her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), who's just been released from prison after serving time for insider trading (apparently he did not learn from Martha Stewart's mistakes). But soon after he's released, his fragile wife becomes inexplicably depressed, even suicidal. What happens after all this will be revealed in the spoiler zone. Suffice to say, Side Effects is enjoyable and worth seeing. It exceeded my expectations, and Jude Law carried the film remarkably well, with help from Mara, who's becoming an expert at playing characters who suffer immense emotional trauma (from being Mark Zuckerberg's spurned ex in The Social Network to playing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). 

Spoiler Zone

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAT??? This movie is crazy. It starts off as your typical dreary paranoid conspiracy thriller-shocker-not-ready-for-Lifetime-TV movie, and then whips out some plot twists that I had no idea would emerge. Perhaps I'm just a gullible movie-watcher, and everyone else saw this coming? 

Two things made Side Effects infinitely better for me: 1) the fact that Rooney Mara's character was secretly working with her ex-psychiatrist, Catherine Zeta-Jones, to fool everyone; and 2) the fact that Channing Tatum's character was killed off relatively quickly. Is it bad that I perked up after Mr. Tatum exited the stage? (Director Steven Soderbergh apparently has a huge man-crush on Magic Mike. Tatum isn't horrendous, but it's certainly hard to believe that he was ever guilty of insider trading. Maybe of disturbing the peace or pirating Eminem CDs.)

Also, seeing Catherine Zeta-Jones play a villain is so much fun. She has an iciness to her that's never fully been exploited until now. Instead, filmmakers have played up that exotic look, ever since The Mask of Zorro. (Actresses who are difficult to ethnically label have always had this blessing-curse. Except Myrna Loy, who is not difficult to label, but still experienced this typecasting. She's very obviously white, but in the 1930s her slanted eyes were enough to justify casting her as the Snake Goddess or some other exotic sexy villainness.) 

In fact, if it wasn't for the plot twists, Side Effects would be a generally unwatchable movie. It's a depressing premise: a girl exhibits dangerous tendencies after taking a new anti-depressant, and then subsequently stabs her husband to death. We're all again wondering why this movie seems to resemble that Oxygen marathon we accidentally DVR'd last weekend. But after the twist, Side Effects becomes a fascinating little thriller, with Jude Law donning his private detective hat as he tries to figure out who to blame. (His career, his family, and his freedom are on the line since he prescribed the drug that caused his patient to go berserk-o.) Law is someone I enjoy watching because he's got that plucky British attitude: he's smart and in command, and it's a lot of fun watching him square off with Catherine Zeta-Jones, who's vulnerable because of her unexpected attraction to Rooney Mara.

Vinessa Shaw appears as Law's wife. She's the typical movie wife: not an ounce of understanding in her body, but they're able to patch things up in the end, Hollywood style (i.e. without anything more than a segue to him picking their kid up from school while she waits in the car smiling and happy music plays overhead). With Polly Draper and David Costabile. Written by Scott Z. Burns. 106 minutes. 2013.

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