Side Effects

Disclaimer: It is rather hard to judge this movie objectively without my healthcare/medical background creeping in to colour some of my opinions.

As Soderbergh's last movie, this is rather disappointing. If nothing else this is a decent thriller: a poor man's "Primal Fear" meets physician's nightmare, but this is nowhere as intriguing/gripping as "Contagion" or as sincere as "Magic Mike". There is a whole mine load of potential story lines that could have been developed and brought out based on the basic premise of the plot, but it seemed like writer Scott Z. Burns and Soderbergh chickened out somewhere in the middle of the second act and dropped the ball. Either that or external factors like studio or backers or ... necessitated the change to a typical, run-of-the-mill thriller plot machinations. The lacked of ambiguity in the characters and the drivers behind them, make them all so one-dimensional and, ultimately, boring. As said, the first act was brilliant, classic, stylish Soderbergh neo-noir but it just got so predictable and sedated. The explosive potential plot threads were just left hanging out dry and ignored. It just dissolved into a standard whodunnit that really, really, had the possibility of informing the public about medical issues that "Contagion" so daftly succeeded in. And that is where it disappointed. It could have gone there, but instead it made a hard left and ended up in Mediocre Avenue. Performances wise, Rooney Mara will never get a second Oscar nomination if this is the standard she is capable of after "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (anyways, IMHO, that spot should have gone to Tilda Swinton for "We Have to Talk About Kevin" or one of the "Carnage" ladies that year if it was not her breakout role). Throughout the whole film, I was so distracted by her acting, and especially so when you could guess the ending within the first 10 minutes of the show (see ranting further down). I could not decide if she was a brilliant actress that is portraying her character so well, or this is not a role for her. I hope it is the former, but judging from the final scenes, it may well just be the latter.  *spoiler* once you know the ending, you will know what I mean (is she acting a character that knows that she is only acting depressed or is she just a lousy actress who cannot act like a real depressed patient?). *end spoiler* Jude Law was just being Jude Law, with no real emotional depth or palpable desperation, entertaining but not engaging; Catherine Zeta Jones basically just sleepwalked through her scenes; Channing Tatum, Soderbergh's latest muse, is really just ornamental here, but even then this is a few steps back for him from "Magic Mike". And Vinassa Shaw, and no thanks to her very superficially written character, was a pain to watch in her chemistry-less role opposite Jude Law. The only real stand out here is Ann Dowd in her small thankless role.  Seriously, something happened between the first act and second act. The only thing that was really good about it was the second act's portrayal of every doctor's nightmare, but even that was, oh so, brief. As for the ending, it was nagging at me from the very first scene to the first 10 minutes. Come to think of it, perhaps, it was re-written that way?  Even as a whodunnit, it was weak; the "clues" and discrepancies were just so glaring. Where was the suckerpunch? Character development was next to none, and the motivations for action were so weak; a minute he/she is behaving like this, and then next minute the other way. Why? Because it is so. There is no audience empathy at all. I cannot believe this is the same guy that gave us "Contagion" and "The Informant!". Sure, there were some good lines, and a very memorable saying comparing the public's opinion of psychiatry in UK and US, but I am now worried for "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes". There's a very good story lurking behind the first act, but sadly we may never get to see it here, but perhaps one day, another brave storyteller will be able to share it with us. I think I am so disappointed in this movie, partly because I am a doctor and I can see some things here that are just so off-marked, but also mainly because my expectations for Soderbergh's last film was for him to exhibit a sort of gee-bang, grab you by the balls, kind of feeling to it. But instead...Having said all that, my audience seemed to have really enjoyed themselves.

Extra Ranting (filled with SPOILERS):
I feel a need to add this short paragraph...I really think that they ought to have explored further the complicated triangle of pharmaceuticals-physicians-patients and expounded on the theme of guilt and intent. They should have gone on to systematically show how this event ultimately destroyed the life of The Physician, The Patient, and affect (not necessarily bring down) The Corporation. That would have surely resulted in award-worthy material for, and performances by, Jude Law and Rooney Mara. Catherine Zeta Jones could be the physician under the pocket of the pharmaceuticals. All these threads were laid out in the First Act, so why did we end up with this lame, sapphic mess that ultimately is all about love and betrayal *roll eyes*. Sure, you could still add in that twist that The Patient knowingly used the side effects of The Drug to murder her husband, and that would have added an even bigger conundrum to the mix. So what happens then if the Side Effects of the Drug can cause The Patient to commit The Crime, but The Patient was not really on The Drug, and only faking the Side Effects, so then will The Doctor still be in trouble for not recognising that The Patient was faking her symptoms and Side Effects? Is The Doctor responsible for The Crime? Can The Patient pull off the scam to blame The Drug for her Crime? Do we want her to get away with it? Do we want The Doctor to be punished? Or is it always the big, bad Corporation that is at fault? Perhaps The Patient is the anti-hero of the movie? Or is it The Doctor?  So much potential, so wasted! And I suspect they know it.


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