Tag Archives: steven soderbergh

Side Effects – Review

18 Feb

Steven Soderbergh is one of those film makers that seems to have the ability to dabble in any genre imaginable. His filmography is extensive and seems to be painted in broad strokes. His latest film, and supposedly his last film he will be releasing for theaters, is Side Effects. As a theatrical swan song, I don’t think there is a movie that could be more appropriate to best represent his diverse skills.

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When Emily Taylor’s (Rooney Mara) husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is released from prison after serving four years for insider trading, it is assumed that life will go on for the couple as it did before his incarceration. Not so. Emily finds herself depressed to the point of attempting suicide on multiple occasions. She meets with psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who after consulting her past therapist, Victoria (Catherine Zeta-Jones), prescribes Emily with a new experimental drug, Ablixa. The drug appears to be working until its side effects tear Emily’s life to shreds. Blame is soon put on Jonathan, who suspects there is more going on with Emily than meets the eye.

About 2/3’s of the reviews that I have read for Side Effects, good or bad, have split the movie up into two separate parts. The first part involves Emily’s struggle with her depression and the prescribing of different drugs until the Ablixa drug is brought to light. This is a very interesting look into the debilitating effects of depression and a filmic debate over the necessity and morality behind prescription drugs. The second half is Jude Law’s show. During this time we see the fall of his character and his attempts to climb out of the mire. The theme of prescription drugs stays strong for this half, but the concrete finger pointing of the companies behind them make this half engaging.

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While four people are shown on the poster, the two main players are Rooney Mara and Jude Law. Both give two of their finest performances. Jude Law, who has recently become one of my favorite actors, gives a very convincing performance that has its moments of subtlety and explosive anger. Mara has proved herself in her career making role as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but shows once again why she should be one of the most sought after actresses in Hollywood. Zeta-Jones’ character is unfortunately wasted and has only one or two brief scenes that stand out. Finally, Channing Tatum is considered to be a joke of an actor to many, but I give him credit. Give him the right director and the right script, Tatum is actually a pretty good actor. He’s not great, but talent is definitely evident. He just needs to start going after more mature movies.

This film screams Soderbergh. The screenplay written by Scott Z. Burns, who has collaborated with Soderbergh for The Informant! and Contagion, brings a great layer of drama, crime, and corporate thrills that would make Hitchcock proud. Visually, Side Effects looks great. The use of low angles and depth of field tricks definitely visualizes the mental state of depression. I’ve heard aesthetic comparisons of this film to that of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the most obvious being the very opening shot, which I consider to be a direct homage.

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I really hope that this isn’t Steven Soderbergh’s last theatrical release. The film world would be losing a powerhouse film maker that it can’t really afford to go without. He has provided many smart films with different societal messages that can be taken seriously or darkly comic. If this is his last, Side Effects is a great film to go out on. It’s condemnation of big companies, suspicion against legality of drugs, and the interest in different states of mind define his career and proves this film to be one of his bests.

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Contagion – Review

20 Jan

The unknown is a pretty terrifying thing, but what happens when the unknown goes viral? Panic? Desperate people doing desperate things? A massive fight for survival is a definite. Disease is, believe it or not, a natural disaster. AIDS, SARS, and the flu are just a few examples. They’re small quiet killers that don’t care who they attack. Steven Soderbergh recognizes this and realistically displays such terror in Contagion.

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After a businesswoman (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a trip, she becomes seriously ill leaving her husband (Matt Damon) to care for her son and his daughter by himself. This virus soon spreads throughout the world leaving a trail of destruction in its path. Dr. Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) and Dr. Mears (Kate Winslet) work for the CDC and try to not only find a cure, but also keep the situation as calm and sterile as possible. Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) is a internet blogger who decides to use the outbreak to make quick cash and powerful step above the bureaucrats. Finally, Dr. Orantes (Marion Cotillard) works for the World Health Organization in Hong Kong, but is soon kidnapped and held ransom until a cure can be found for the disease.

The narrative presented by Soderbergh is impressive. He did the same kind of thing with his masterpiece from 2000, Traffic. This narrative style is called “hyperlink narrative.” This style involves having multiple characters with their own plots and devices and having them interwoven with each other to make a sort of collage of humanity over time and space. It is a very challenging type of film to fully comprehend, even if you consider yourself to be the world’s biggest cinephile, and Contagion is no exception.

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The best part of the movie is trying to keep up with all of the story lines thrown at you at once and seeing all of the connections. In that same respect it would be difficult to really care about each character since we are constantly jumping around. This really isn’t a problem in this movie though thanks to the writing/acting combination. All of the actors (there’s too many to name them all individually) are great. My personal favorite is Jude Law since I was never quite sure what he was up to and he was also very outspoken. In real life, I would hate this guy, but in the movie he was great.

While I said “this isn’t really a problem” does not mean that it wasn’t at all. This movie is far from being perfect and teeters comfortably on the good/great line. The scale of it s great, but it is stretched way too much. There is a certain character in this movie (coughcoughmarioncotillard) that I didn’t care about in the least. She had all the building blocks to be memorable, but she wasn’t used enough and when she was onscreen she didn’t have the same force as the other characters did. It’s really a shame because I feel like her character would be important.

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Contagion will certainly succeed in freaking you out. It will also succeed in making you think of how the governmental powers of the world may realistically act during a situation like this. The narrative approach of this movie is perfect for the genre, but not done as well as I would have liked. I appreciate the realism and the attempt. It’s a brilliantly planned and and thought out movie. Unfortunately, the writing of certain characters and scenes make people and events feel not so important. This is a good movie that was a little too long and stretched out. If you miss this movie, you’ll survive, but giving it a chance wouldn’t hurt either.