Review: Side Effects (2013)

side effects

Darn doctors and their drugs, what the heck do they know!

Written By: Scott Z. Burns
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh’s supposedly last theatrical effort is a film of two great minds. Two great minds that have a lot to impart upon the audience. However, when it comes time for those two great minds to meet one another things go wonky. The two great minds can’t get along, they quarrel with one another and generally manage to clash in every way. That’s the story of Side Effects, a pair of great stories that have no actual place where they meet and make one cohesively great film.

The first half of Side Effects deals mainly with the medical field. I work in the medical field, so I could relate to what the film had to say in this segment. Luckily I’m an EMT and that means I’m only ever giving medicine to save someone’s life on the spot. Yet, I consistently interact with patients who are suffering because of the system, their doctors, and the drugs they are on. The first half of the film deals with the idea of the medical side of the human mind, ahem, head on. The film has a foggy quality to it, as if much like someone who suffers from depression the film has no clear cut answers to provide. The delivery, staging, framing, and acting are all spot on during the first half.

The second half of Side Effects is much the same as the first in terms of quality. The second half takes on the form of a thriller/mystery whodunit. The film picks up the pace and settles into delivering a fine unraveling of a mystery. There’s a satisfactory element at play during the second half of Side Effects. As we watch Jude Law put all the pieces in place he becomes a character to root for. His final vindication is an almost “get up and cheer” sort of moment. And again, during this half of the film the staging, framing, and acting are all spot on and pretty much impeccable.

Why then, isn’t Side Effects a great film? The answer is in my first paragraph, the meditative first half and thriller second half don’t blend together very well. Perhaps there is a way they could have been blended better, but alas that’s not the film Mr. Soderbergh delivered. The first half is one great movie, and the second half is another great movie. They are very different movies though and the fact that they never come together is a serious flaw within the film. I’m all for genre bending, I generally tend to greatly dislike genre labeling. However, a film needs to work as a whole, regardless of genre aspirations, and Side Effects is two distinct films that never work together as a whole.

I wanted to love Side Effects, and at various times I did love what I was watching. It’s tough for me to say that the end product isn’t great because I know that what I was watching on my screen was pretty darn great. Side Effects is an incomplete greatness, the sort of greatness that feels hollow and without the necessary connective tissue that holds a great movie together. I know it’s not actually Mr. Soderbergh’s last film, but if Side Effects is his last theatrically released film it’s a vexing film for him to depart on. But maybe it’s a fitting film, because Side Effects achieves a kind of greatness, but it’s different in the way it goes about trying to be great.




5 responses to “Review: Side Effects (2013)

  1. I see what you mean about the two halves of Side Effects, but I found that to be one of its strengths. It’s such a jarring move that I had no idea where it was going next and was ready to ride the roller coaster wherever it went. I also found it interesting how Soderbergh took such telling shots at the pharmaceutical industry yet disguised them in a genre film.

  2. Good review Bill. Soderbergh is quite known for playing around with genres and the conventions they hold so near and dear to their hearts, which is why I found this one to be a blast. Sure, not all of it was totally believable, but for the most part, it kept me excited, thrilled and pondering just what was going to happen next, and to whom.

  3. Dan Heaton – Working in the medical field I certainly appreciated the shots at the pharmaceutical industry. I wanted to love this one, but for me the film never came to grips worth how jarringly different its two halves were.

    Dan O’ Neill – I’m fine with playing with genre, but I didn’t find Soderbergh’s playing around to be effective this time. He needed to connect the different genres he was playing around in better.

  4. I thought “Side Effects” was a whopping disappointment. So many things about the film really worked for me. But there was plenty that I found frustrating. I particularly disliked the ending which seemed to come out of nowhere.

    Solid review!

  5. The ending is a problem, although for me it was more the build up of the final act that felt like it came out of left field.

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