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Film review: Side Effects

by Dan Jordan

Age certification: 15

Written by: Scott Z Burns

Directed by: Steven Soderburgh

Cast: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones

Genre: Crime, Drama, Psychological Thriller

Rating: ****

People, we’re a fallible bunch. Our psychology is so full of flaws we can forget hours, even days of our lives. The greater mysteries of life, death and the universe are lost to us as we make our way day to day in our own little worlds. The utter bafflement produced by Side Effects awakens us to this realisation, but its serenity, self-assuredness and glamorous composure make it a privilege to try and work past our incapacities to decode the puzzle offered to us in a truly unforgettable fashion.

After her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is sent to jail for insider trading, Emily (Rooney Mara) falls into deep depression. Even after his release, problems persist. She crashes her car and almost throws herself in front of a train just to escape her own misery. Assigned to her case is Dr John Banks (Jude Law) who prescribes a new, experimental drug to dull Emily’s pain. But when Emily murders her husband in a drug induced state, the lack of control she feels spreads to Banks, who falls under fire for prescribing the drug and for pinning the blame on the pharmaceutical company who made it. Who is responsible becomes less and less important, as a grand scheme of betrayal and false incrimination are slowly uncovered, leaving no illusions that the murderous bride may be the most psychologically sound of them both.

The camera direction is a triumph. Defocussing the backgrounds of each scene foregrounds the characters, framed in a way that makes them threateningly immediate but also uncomfortably isolated. Claustrophobic close-ups are dispensed with, creating a smooth yet almost impenetrable atmosphere to the screen. In true Hitchcockian style, we are made increasingly aware of and imprisoned in our position as the viewer by our lack of sympathy with the apathetic characters and by the eerie, unsettling atmosphere created by the relaxed pans and nursery-rhyme like score.

Transitioning seamlessly from issue-based melodrama to detective story, we are not even slightly indulged as the revelations of deceit and mistrust come flooding in from all sides, leaving us with a tangle of disorientating and enigmatic conclusions to puzzle over.

There’s no picture on the lid of this puzzle box though, making energetic deconstruction a must. Enjoy whilst watching, but bring your cleverest friend to pour over the minute details of this fantastic thriller.

** Click here to check Odeon Leicester film showing times **

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