Side Effects

06 Mar

Side Effects ­– directed by Steven Soderbergh. Suspense. A psychiatrist prescribes a new drug to a suffering young woman, and the results are as prescribed, alas. 106 minutes Color 2013.


Side Effects, a right properly titled piece, falls into the category of Hitchcock suspense, by which I mean that it is arranged around a falsely accused man.

In Hitchcock’s many versions of this situation, To Catch A Thief, North By Northwest, Saboteur, I Confess, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Birds, Strangers On A Train, Rebecca, The Wrong Man, and so forth, something allows us to get behind the falsely accused character. This is not always solved by casting, but it is always enforced by Hitchcock’s treatment of the character. After all, these characters were not always played by Jimmy Stewart. Hitchcock’s usual strategy is to have the character thus falsely accused start the first act by evincing a really good sense of humor and be limber in his life. The humor may disappear with the tension of the story, but it has given us him as a human enjoying his life, and thus we don’t want him to lose it.

In the case of Side Effects, we have in Jude Law no Jimmy Stewart. He is a good actor but a cold one and seemingly empty. I don’t really care whether he lives or dies. And our chance to identify with him is crowded out by the fact that as written his character is not humorous but a workaholic. He is not enough fun for us to take to our hearts in such a tale.

Why a non-America actor is playing this part anyhow is a bafflement. His being from The British Empire adds nothing to the role. It would be a good part for Tom Hanks in his late thirties, and a perfect one for Adrian Brody and Robert Downey Junior right now – and for any number of other American actors, including black ones, presently in their thirties or early forties.

So the film fails to engage on a personal level, and we are left with a cunning story, beautifully told by the director and cinemaphotographer and editor. We go to a movie to see them, too, of course, and they do not disappoint, but they are not the one’s we need to identify with.

The story involves a troubled young woman sorely depressed upon the release from prison of her husband, well-played by Channing Tatum. Catharine Zeta-Jones is excellent as her former shrink. And Rooney Mara plays the young woman herself. She is taken to a therapist after an attempt at self-injury. The therapist is played by Jude Law.

The story held my attention from beginning to end, and I enjoyed and accepted its modulations into and out of peril. That is what suspense films are for, aren’t they? But I feared nothing for its hero, which is not what suspense films are for.

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