Thursday, February 7, 2013

SIDE EFFECTS opens: Steven Soderbergh's so-so (and supposed) swan song to cinema

Damn us critics! We're always claiming we want something new (at least sort-of new, which is about as much as can be seen, under this sun). But then when we get it, we don't much care for it. I'm afraid that's the case with TrustMovies and SIDE EFFECTS, the new and quite spiffily outfitted film from Steven Soderbergh, the noted director who has told us that this will be his final film, though not neces-sarily the end of his output. In a very interesting conversation with this director pub-lished recently, the filmmaker makes it clear that he's quite willing to work in cable television and maybe other venues in which the format is more to his liking. But no more "cinema." (Oh, well -- Frank Sinatra was always giving "final" concerts, too, so who knows?)

I've long run hot and cold to Mr. Soderbergh's output (the director is shown at right), and I'm only lukewarm to this latest/last work. Though it has a lot going for it initially and up to maybe the halfway point, eventually it falls apart due to the unbelievable shenanigans set before us in almost "shorthand" manner to make everything go click-click-click into its clockwork-like finale. People's behavior suddenly turns on a dime and characters who were, oh, so smart now appear awfully dumb in order to bring the movie home. I cannot get more specific without giving away spoilers, and part of the movie's fun is how it quietly morphs from genre to genre to genre, becoming by its end something entirely different from what you imagined you were viewing at its beginning.

This clever genre-mashing has been done previously, but not, I think, as quietly and un-showily as Soderbergh manages it. If only he and particularly the film's screenwriter, Scott Z. Burns, had found a way to handle it all so that everything did not click into place without using what seems like every tried-and-true movie method -- making one character suddenly jealous of another, using the old hidden-recorder trick -- in its rush to completion. By trying to turn something interestingly nuanced into near-mainstream fodder, the movie ends up a neither-fish-nor-fowl concoction.

So lets get back to the good stuff, of which there is plenty, starting with the filmmakers' look at today's society and its dependence upon pharmaceuticals to solve problems, together with how easily doctors are willing to jump into bed with the companies that make those pharmaceuticals. Especially commendable is how Side Effects -- such a telling and inclusive title -- incorporates everything from the behavior of society's public servants to Wall Street's bumps (and grinds) into such an effectively sleazy scenario.

The movie's cast is part of the good stuff, as well, and, yes indeed, they all deliver. Jude Law, above, moving smartly into middle-age roles, makes a very believable therapist and johnny-come-lately protagonist.

Catherine Zeta-Jones is aces as another therapist (both her character and Law's have treated the movie's initial protagonist) who goes from bright and sunny (above) to something a bit more complex. Channing Tatum, below, hot off the Soderbergh hit (but again, only so-so in my book), Magic Mike, is here a bit wasted (in a couple of senses of that word) but he is absolutely confined by the movie's script and so does what he can valiantly enough.

More than any other cast member, it's Rooney Mara (below and at bottom) who delivers the film's knockout performance. It's not enough that she envelopes us with her neediness and sadness, but then she... ah, you'll see. Though I was disappointed in the movie overall, I have to recommend it for Mara's work alone.

Supporting roles are cast and handled expertly down the line. Everyone from Mamie Gummer (the wife of a business friend) and Polly Draper (Mara's understanding boss) to Vinessa Shaw (Law's significant other), Ann Dowd (Tatum's mom), and Peter Friedman and Laila Robins as Law's business partners) do a spot-on job.

Side Effects, from Open Road films, opens wide tomorrow, Friday, February 8. To find out where, click here and then click on BUY TICKETS NOW.

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