An fantastic blend of action, humour and some well-done emotion, this… MoreAn fantastic blend of action, humour and some well-done emotion, this is a brilliant, epic follow-up to both 2009's film and to the entire franchise itself. Full review later.
By turns funny and moving with some great songs, this is a lesser-seen… MoreBy turns funny and moving with some great songs, this is a lesser-seen but still great effort from Tim Burton. Full review later.
Steven Soderbergh will never be typecast. In a career spanning 24… MoreSteven Soderbergh will never be typecast. In a career spanning 24 years after exploding into the world of film with Sex, Lies, and Videotape in 1989, Soderbergh has gone through sci-fi with Solaris, biopics with Erin Brockovich and the Che series, heist films with Danny Ocean's ever-increasing band of thieves, action with Haywire, psychological thrillers with Contagion, pitch-black comedy with The Informant, whatever genre you feel like calling Magic Mike, and now a good old-fashioned murder mystery with what is purported to be his last film. Michael Bay may dominate the bad action movie scene, but when you walk into a Steven Soderbergh film, you never know what you're going to walk away with.
The same is true of Side Effects. When it begins, with our lead character going through an endless transition from anxiety pill to anxiety pill in an attempt to feel better, or at least something, it seems that Soderbergh's last film is going to be an open fire on the pill industry. But as it progresses through a murder and some beautifully strung paranoia, we realise it's done a somersault in a different direction and becomes a mystery to rival Agatha Christie's most gleefully loopy narratives for twists, turns and all-exposing final reveals.
And you can't help but feel Soderbergh's steady influence throughout these proceedings. His signature look and feel aside, it's the calm ease with which he ushers us through this transition; the seamless joins where one genre ends and the other begins. And despite the fact that mystery movies by now have the been-there-done-that feel to them, through key sequences and cleverly framed moments, Soderbergh never loses our attention for a second. When Emily drives her car into a wall, for instance, it's clearly stated to be a suicidal attempt, a cry for help in her time of mental anguish. But when this is shown to be something else entirely, all but the most suspicious of viewers will be taken by surprise by a trick which has been seen many times before. Or when Emily breaks down at a party, we see it as an understandable display of a complex emotion which Emily must be going through. Yet when it, too, is shown in its true light, it once again takes us by surprise. This rejuvenation of an often clichéd genre is what sets Stephen Soderbergh apart from a director who may have taken the work at face value. It's his understanding of the genre and its tropes which makes it possible for him to pull off such a blindside on an audience who are used to being blindsided.
Audiences aren't surprised by things anymore. Twist endings have less and less effect the more they are used. And they are used often. Time and time again, audience members, myself included, walk out of a cinema saying, "I saw that coming." We've been conditioned not to trust anyone on the screen. The Usual Suspects taught us that the most convincing of narrators can be false. Citizen Kane taught us to look for the tiniest detail. Planet of the Apes taught us to think on a wider scale. We know this twist-ending stuff back to front. In light of this, Stephen Soderbergh has pulled off something of a coup d'etat on our understandings. This is a director pulling a switch on a genre, not just a plot; something which is entirely more difficult to do and much more difficult to predict. If this is confirmed to be the film he's going out on, he's going out with a bang.
But it would be more of a whimper if the cast didn't bring their A-game, and they definitely do. Rooney Mara, already having garnered critical acclaim for her tough, raw performance in David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is fantastic as Emily; the depressed wife of a con-man newly released from prison. In keeping with Soderbergh's sleight of hand, Mara is 100% believable as both the housewife in the throes of depression, sinking in a sea of anti-anxiety pills and anti-depressants, as well as her second act counterpart as a scheming mastermind. It's a fantastic performance, not as explosive or shocking as her 2011 role, but no less demanding. She has more emotion to work with here, more sides to her character, and she plays them all with utter conviction.
But as the film does an about face, so too does its leading character, jumping from Emily to her doctor, Jonathan Banks, played by Jude Law. Law has always proven to be an impressive actor but he hasn't had many chances to show it recently. Here, finally given a chance, he brings the talent which made him such a valuable commodity in the first place, moving from professional therapist to quivering wreck as he lands under the microscope of a massive investigation, then to seemingly paranoid conspiracy theorist and finally to satisfied victor. It's a performance which demands a huge range and Law displays just that, never failing to connect with the audience whether he's harassing Emily or desperately trying to convince his wife to stand by him. Catherine Zeta-Jones is all fire and energy in her small but important role and Channing Tatum shows his ever-increasing skill as Emily's ill-fated husband, but at the centre of the film are the two performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara, and they both do a fantastic job.
But it really is Soderbergh's film. Though he's never onscreen, his presence is always felt, through either his understated, murky style of filming which walks some unseen line between realism and fairytale so deftly that he is able to jump between one or the other at will. Or through the ease with which he's able to change so quickly from devastating drama to paranoid thriller without tipping his hand. It's impressive work from someone who has always been a generator of impressive work and the movie scene will be that much poorer in his absence.