Mon 24 Jun 2013
For us, folks living out of the United States there seem to be two institutions that govern strongly the lives of our American friends: the courts of law and the shrinks. While tribunals are institutions that for most people out of the US seem to be equal to being in trouble and lawyers a category of people to avoid, a little more acceptable than the gravediggers, the American way takes easily its conflicts into courts, and lawyers seem to be on the top of the social and wealth scales. Same for psychoanalysts, with the process of going to one being considered to be a social and personal necessity even for the not so rich in America, and the sign of some malady or deep trouble elsewhere. Actually in ‘Side Effects’ Jude Law does not hide at all his native British accent as he plays shrink from the UK who comes to Manhattan in order to be able to exercise his profession as a honorable one. He works hard, he seems to succeed and then he meets trouble.
Trouble comes under the shape of a young and troubled woman (Rooney Mara) whom he meets in hospital after she tried to commit suicide. She has a history of such troubles and even more reasons now, as her husband (a white collar offender) got out of jail and was trying to find his way back to the world of investment. Like everybody around doctors, patients and everybody else knows about psychotic drugs, the shrink tries some, they do not work, try another experimental one, it seems to work … and then she kills.
It’s just the start of a film that changes a few times tone and direction approaching successively a few themes – the obsession of the American society with shrinks and related medication, the ethics of using experimental drugs, the relation between shrink and patient, and a crime story which also changes angles and develops towards an unexpected but also an incredible outcome.
It is not really clear what kind of movie Steven Soderbergh wanted to do. He observes well the medium and cinematography is very good in emphasizing the atmosphere and the stress the characters go through. The crime story he relies on is however too complicated and not only the ending is hard to accept, but also some of the key details on the road. Are we supposed to believe that a doctor who was involved in the medical past of the patient, and who may be suspected of malpractice because of allegedly using an experimental drug with unexpected side effects will not only be accepted as an expert witness in court, but also continue to be trusted as the personal psychoanalyst and supervisor of the accused after she is condemned to be interned into a mental institution?
IMO, acting is not stellar either. Rooney Mara conveys at the beginning the fragility of a troubled mind to the point that I found hard to believe the final twists. Jude Law with his face stoned in one expression only for the whole film (with just his beard growing, cheap way of showing men in trouble in movies) is ‘only good’, which is relatively bad for this splendid actor. Catherine Zeta-Jones is the worse – a miscast which cannot be believed neither as shrink nor as lover.
It is said that director Steven Soderbergh declared this will be his final film. I really hope this is not true, this would be for me a poor ending to a career that has seen much better achievements.