Side Effects May Include Smirks, Butts on the Edges of Seats, and Oh No She Didn’t’s!

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, you sly dog, you!

Everyone is Side Effects talks in hushed, measured, careful tones even when angry or sad… or acting. It’s as if Soderbergh had the entire cast tranquilized. Everything about his camera and framing is measured as well. The opening shots (with Thomas Newman’s best score since American Beauty playing on the soundtrack over innocuous credits) echo Hitchcock’s Psycho. We’re in a city…we’re zooming in on a building…a window…slowly we enter a room… there’s blood on the floor…and clues. Shots, tight, not lingering. Not wasting a moment. And then…three months earlier…the title card announces.

After that hint of suspense, Soderbergh tranquillizes the audience. We think we’re watching some topical drama about the dangers of prescription drugs and societal malaise during the Great Recession. Pretty, thin little Emily (a perfectly cast Rooney Mara) looks like a strong wind will blow her away. She suffers from depression, and her husband (a cavalier and charming Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison where he served a short term for insider trading. Emily, struggling to cope, slams her car into a wall and then goes under the watchful care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, appropriately arrogant but empathetic) who thoughtfully tries to find the right cocktail of medication to get her through her “poisonous fog.” He even takes care to contact her former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Seibert (a deliciously cold Catherine Zeta-Jones).
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Contagion

Some people would do anything for their blog...

 
“Blogging is graffiti with punctuation.”
 
In Steven Soderbergh’s timely new viral thriller, Jude Law (always unlikable) is a blogger who gives the government a huge headache while they attempt to control an epidemic of bat-pig flu (holy crap!)  It’s never made clear whether this character really was trying to disseminate the truth (or at least a valid alternative take on the facts) or was just preaching fear so he could cash in and blackmail the CDC, but ultimately Soderbergh is pretty dismissive of the blogosphere.
 
There are some other more applicable and timeless messages to take away from the film:  women who sleep around spread viruses, women married to powerful men are incapable of keeping secrets, and no one really cares when a step-kid dies.  Seriously though – there’s also some “bigger picture” commentary about big corporations causing big problems and overly complex bureaucracies crippling the pace of solving the problems.  Sometimes this results in minor inconveniences…and sometimes it results in 27 million people dying.  C’est la vie.