Side Effects (Soderbergh, 2013)
This review contains heavy spoilers (2nd paragraph).
Soderbergh might be the current master of Hollywood. No one puts out quality big-budget, mass audience-friendly stuff as often as this man. So I guess I can’t be too upset when his work doesn’t occasionally live up to the hype I’ve created for him. But even in his more flawed work, he still does some fantastic things. The first half is amazing. We are introduced to a deeply emotional relationship of a husband and wife dealing with several issues, the central one being coping with her depression. The circumstances and dialogue feel real; the moody cinematography and atmosphere (that include some fantastic ‘everyday moment’ montages) are beautiful. The strength of the set up becomes most apparent when the film’s arc comes and shocks, saddens, and bewilders.
But instead of exploring the path of consequence, responsibility, and true loneliness, Soderbergh decides to go down a conspiracy plot path. With this comes storytelling cheats, a jumble of plot confusion, and the general mistake of having a character with no background in law or criminal justice suddenly become Sherlock Holmes. Truthfully, though, nothing bothered me more than the storytelling cheats. As the wife sleepwalks her way back to her bed after killing her husband with a zoned expression her face, I told myself that there is no way she is faking because only the audience can see her at this point; Soderbergh would do no such thing. Alas, I was wrong and Soderbergh committed a storytelling sin that does its best to negate all the good that was the first half. All of this is a shame because Jude Law’s character is presented sympathetically, from his honest interest in helping others to his disbelief and personal deterioration following his patient’s act of murder. And Rooney Mara is a quiet victim of hope and trust who is quickly thrust into a world of shame, guilt, and horror. But all of this is present and relevent prior to the twist, so why is it needed?! This one left me frustrated. 7/10