Everyone should try drugs. Drugs allow the brain to extend the truth into foreign territory. And that foreign territory fosters learning. Learning leads to growth. Growth, if you’re smart, leads to self-actualization. Caveat: Abuse of said drugs nullifies the aforementioned cycle. “Side Effects” centralizes its plot around drugs — prescription drugs. Expectedly, it delves into a thematic Marianas Trench of dense deception, insular insecurities and faux fantasies. A didactic yet engrossing picture, the viewing effects aren’t “Side” at all — they’re inches from your face; you just opt not to see them.

Side Effects

A
Rave and Quality 16
Open Road


Even though director Steven Soderbergh is a member of the Sundance Kids and integral in the vanguard of indie-American filmmakers, he’s not an auteur (think: Paul Thomas Anderson, “The Master” and Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom”). And that’s OK.

His films suggest maybe, at one point, he fancied the idea of becoming an auteur but ultimately decided it’d be too redundant. Instead, he continually makes ace movies without ditching his trademarks: ambient scores marrying sudden jump cuts, all while lensing himself under a pseudonym. Bravo.

Emily (Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and Martin (Channing Tatum, “Magic Mike”) live a posh, NYC lifestyle — until Martin gets thrown behind bars for insider trading. Time elapses. Martin is released from prison to his seemingly cathartic spouse. (Operative word: seemingly.) Turns out, Emily obscures her deep-rooted emotional jungle. Martin knows it, her mother knows it and her former shrinks know it: She hasn’t been happy for a long time.

An accident introduces the next most important figure, Dr. Banks (Jude Law, “Anna Karenina”), Emily’s new psychiatrist. He prescribes her the usual: Zoloft. Things go awry. Hallucinations, hypnosis and other bizarre side effects manifest themselves. Litigation rears its ugly head when a nasty murder interrupts finally-reunited lovers and a doctor’s morally-loose medicinal research.

“Rooney! Rooney! Rooney!” the filmic football stadium shall chant. Mara is plain different from her contemporaries. She doesn’t act, she communicates. There’s a delightful sense of effortlessness in her cool, monotone utterance. Doubtlessly, in “Side Effects,” she goes batshit-crazy, which convinces viewers of her ability to whisper, then seamlessly scream. We want to trust her, but she’s too convincingly untrustworthy. Mara is here to stay. Any opposition?

Tatum satisfies for his 15 minutes of screen time. Law brings down the house as the resilient, semi-crazed doctor cornered in a bad, bad predicament with a bad patient. Nobody falls short in “Side Effects,” yet Mara’s surrounding cast enhances her performance. Pushing each other’s boundaries? Good teamwork, team.

The dialogic beauty takes on a character itself. Early on, Emily confesses to Dr. Banks that Martin “stared at me like I was a painting.” She later describes her mental weather as “a poisonous fog.” Props go to scriptwriter, Scott Burns (“Contagion”), for constructing such poetry.

As mentioned, Soderbergh is his own Director of Photography. His rack focuses (when something out-of-focus becomes in-focus) and narrow depth of field isolate Emily from the world, abandoning any sense of humane connection. Lightning-fast jump cuts, cut-ins and behind-the-shot Steadicam shots add brisk pacing to an otherwise slow boiling film. Every shot makes you think.

“Side Effects” is a textbook team effort. Scripting, editing, acting and directing all convene in harmony. A narrator informs us, “Depression is the inability to see your future self.” The film hints at the facades drugs create for their users or abusers — an idea that everything will be fine as long as you swallow me twice a day. “Effects” doesn’t believe in probabilities. You either do it or you don’t. The gray area in between causes the unwanted side effects.

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