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Psychological thriller following the effects of one woman's mental breakdown on those closest to her. In the hopes of treating the depression she is suffering in anticipation of her husband Martin returning home from prison, Emily Taylor is prescribed the new and untested drug Ablixa by her psychiatrist Dr Banks. Soon afterwards, things start looking up for the Taylors but it isn't long before Emily begins experiencing some disturbing side effects which appear to blur the line between fantasy and reality.
For more about Side Effects and the Side Effects Blu-ray release, see Side Effects Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on May 16, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Vinessa Shaw, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Katie Lowes
Director: Steven Soderbergh
» See full cast & crew
Side Effects Blu-ray Review
Not a bitter pill to swallow... at first.
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, May 16, 2013
Every review of Side Effects should begin with the words: "Stop! Do not read this review!" So, with that in mind, stop! Do not read this review! Unfortunately, even that simple disclaimer gives far too much away, as it hints at the twists and turns director Steven Soderbergh's theatrical trailers so elegantly and successfully kept hidden. In fact, to watch the trailers is to watch an entirely different movie; a topical drama that shines a harsh light on the ills of the pharmaceutical industry and the dangers of anti-depressant medications, which are being prescribed with questionable, arguably alarming frequency. Side Effects is not that film. Oh, it pretends to be for quite some time, and the intricacies of its long-con are both masterfully structured and genuinely shocking. Therein, though, lies the carefully wound psychological thriller's greatest asset and greatest flaw.
A young woman named Emily (Rooney Mara) becomes severely depressed and suicidal after her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is released from prison, where he was serving a four-year sentence for insider trading. Although her psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), attempts to eliminate the more extreme symptoms of her depression and increasingly unstable condition with various medications, nothing seems to be working... until he prescribes a relatively new drug called Ablixa on the advice of a former colleague (Catherine Zeta Jones). Much to Emily's relief, Ablixa proves to be something of a miracle pill; it's only serious side effect being sleepwalking. But when a nearly unconscious Emily snaps without warning and commits a heinous crime, the good doctor's judgment is soon called into question. Was Emily even responsible for her actions? Or was her behavior the result of faulty decision-making on the part of her trusted psychiatrist? The lines quickly blur and thought-provoking questions are raised; questions that lead Jonathan so deep into his own depression that he risks his marriage, his dignity and what little remains of his reputation.
Don't worry, I have no intention of spoiling the sharp left turn taken by Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns midway through the film. It's only essential to note that Side Effects suddenly and aggressively divides into separate films; the first of which is chilling and calculated, confidently emerging as the most intriguing and satisfying of the two. The first half is an expertly crafted, wonderfully performed cautionary tale through and through. The second half, on the other hand, is pure, unadulterated Hitchcock homage, minus the unbreakable threads needed to more effectively bind the disparate halves together. Granted, the suspense and unease Soderbergh mounts on either side of the film's grand gotcha moment is most commendable. Inspired, even. Alas, the resulting disconnect that rears its head is terribly disheartening and a bit frustrating; impressions that only intensify with repeat viewings, when it's more clear just how detached one is from the other. Film 1 makes Film 2 seem trivial; just another day in the genre office. Film 2 renders Film 1 a cheap magician's trick, and begins undermining the impassioned message that initially gives Side Effects its fierce trajectory and palpable momentum.
Those repeat viewings do have a benefit, though. Side Effects is a richer, more enjoyable plot-driven experience the second time around, with expectations adjusted and Soderbergh's true intent uncovered. It's also more apparent just how layered the performances are, from Mara's threadbare downward spiral to Law's bewildered breakdown, Tatum's lovestruck devotion and Jones' icy demeanor. Nothing is as it seems, which would be a cliché if anything was what it appeared to be at the outset. But it's Mara and Law who steal the show, circling, toying and eventually squaring off against one another in a struggle against culpability. Mara delivers at least three dramatic shifts and doesn't tremble in the face of any of it, bonding intimately with the best and worst of Emily's fractured psyche. Law moves from well-intentioned to desperate to vindictive, all in the span of an hour, and does so with a sweaty, anxious effortlessness that allows the third act to hit as hard as it does. It only helps that Burns' sharp script and Soderbergh's hypnotic tone set a gripping stage for Emily and Jonathan's ultimate fates, despite some glaring missteps in the film's plotting and pacing. All told, Side Effects is a deliberate, dare I say brilliantly orchestrated thriller, albeit one that so misleads and deceives its audience that it damages its own logic, credibility and cohesiveness in the process.
Side Effects Blu-ray, Video Quality
Cold cast with stale yellows, sickly greens, humorless blues and sterilized whites, Side Effects and its faithful, film-like 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer present the already minimalistic image at its most distinctly Soderberghian, with the director/cinematographer's telltale style dominating every frame. Colors are accurate and effective, as is contrast, and black levels are deep and foreboding. Fleshtones are reasonably well-saturated too (pale or jaundiced as they occasionally appear), and delineation is quite good, revealing as much or as little shadow detail as Soderbergh desires. Detail is also impressive on the whole, even though some intermittent softness, noise and ringing hold things back from perfection. Still, closeups are particularly refined, edges are crisply defined, textures are often nicely resolved, and the film's faint, almost imperceptible grain field is intact. It's a strong presentation, without any significant macroblocking, banding or other anomalies.
Side Effects Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is a noteworthy representation of the film's restrained but convincing sound design, from the noise of a bustling hospital to the quiet expanse of Jonathan's apartment, the alienating acoustics of a sparsely populated courtroom, and the nervous energy hanging in the air at a mental institution. Dialogue is clean, clear and intelligible, despite being beholden to any given interior or exterior environment's natural acoustic properties, and voices are never left to fend for themselves, subdued as they may be on occasion. The rear speakers and LFE channel primarily fill support roles, enhancing the believability of each scene without intruding or becoming forceful when force isn't required. Ultimately it proves itself a terrificly subtle sonic experience that values realism and immersion above all else. It's probably best to rent Side Effects before making a purchase, but fans of Soderbergh's every last film will be safe with a blind buy.
Side Effects Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Side Effects Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I suspect Side Effects will continue to grow on me (as it already did my second time through), although I doubt I'll ever stop wondering what sort of thriller it might have been had Soderbergh stuck with the more relevant Big Pharmaceutical, corporate-culture commentary that dominates his first act. Its performances are outstanding, its script sharply penned, its direction confident and its story absorbing. Soderbergh isn't the 21st century's answer to Hitchcock, but, here, he at least shows the aptitude for it. Universal's AV presentation is more rewarding, with an excellent video transfer and an enveloping DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. It's just a shame the Blu-ray's supplemental package is such a bust.
Side Effects: Other Editions
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Side Effects Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: May 21-28 - May 19, 2013
For the week of May 21st, Universal Studios Home Entertainment is bringing Side Effects to Blu-ray. Steven Soderbergh has claimed that this feature will be his last theatrical venture - he shot his Liberace docudrama, Behind the Candelabra, for HBO - and if the ...
• Exclusive Giveaway: Side Effects - May 17, 2013
Blu-ray.com and Universal Studios Home Entertainment are offering five members an opportunity to win a Blu-ray copy of director Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects, starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta Jones. The suspense thriller arrives ...
• Side Effects Blu-ray - March 19, 2013
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has officially announced and detailed the Blu-ray/DVD/UltraViolet Combo Pack release of director Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns' Side Effects, starring Channing Tatum, Rooney Mara, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones. ...
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