I hate to throw out the overused term "Hitchcockian" in describing a film. Far too often, the word is used for any run-of-the-mill thriller, even when there's virtually nothing in the movie that resembles
any film of Hitchcock's. The last films that I saw where the word "Hitchcockian" could reasonably be applied were directed by Brian De Palma in the 70s and 80s (and De Palma was trying to emulate Hitch). Then there was the fabulous Bound from the Wachowski siblings in 1996, which was Hitchcockian in the grandest sense. I would also argue that the Coen brothers' debut film Blood Simple was Hitchcockian. That's about it - but wouldn't you love to see Spielberg or Scorsese try their hand in a Hitchcock-like film?
Side Effects stars Jude Law in the Cary Grant role, Rooney Mara as the icy female protagonist, and, incredibly, Channing Tatum evoking strong memories of Janet Leigh in Psycho (or perhaps Angie Dickinson in Dressed to Kill). Law -- in his best performance in years -- plays a psychiatrist who prescribes a new drug for the depressed Mara. Tatum plays Mara's husband who has just been released from a stint in prison. Catherine Zeta-Jones is a colleague of Law's. To say anything more about the plot would be a crime.
The script by Scott Z. Burns is smart and tightly plotted. Director Steven Soderbergh, who professes to be retiring from directing movies, has delivered his most compelling film in awhile, and it is only 2013 release so far this year that has piqued my interest at all. Side Effects isn't perfect, by any means. Soderbergh insists on filming with a yellow filter which irritates me, though the effect here is much less disastrous than it was with the recent Magic Mike. The character of Law's wife -- ably played by Vinessa Shaw -- has a bizarre character reaction about three-quarters of the way through the film that seems to be there only to heighten the drama rather than being believable. And as good as the film is, it seems a bit too low-key to me, though I'm not sure what needs to be done to jazz it up a little. All of the performances are quite good, with Law being the standout. Mara shows that her performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn't a fluke. Some of the supporting players include Polly Draper from TV's thirtysomething, and Mamie Gummer, who is Meryl Streep's lookalike daughter.
Soderbergh has a biopic about Liberace still to unveil on HBO this spring. He has delivered some compelling movies in his career like sex, lies, and videotape; Traffic, Erin Brockovich, Out of Sight, and Ocean's Eleven and its sequels. I really hope Soderbergh just needs a respite from directing and that his creative juices will start flowing again. Side Effects proves that there is still a lot of creativity still left in him, and I would hate for this film to be his theatrical swan song. Grade: B+.
I watched Side Effects at the Huntington Mall Cinemark Cinemas on February 15, 2013 with my cousin Zack.