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Feature


Emily (Rooney Mara) and Martin (Channing Tatum) appear to be love’s young dream. However their worlds are turned upside down when Emily’s psychiatrist (Jude Law) prescribes a new drug to treat her anxiety. As Emily experiences unexpected and dangerous side effects, neither the symptoms nor the cure are quite what they seem. (Taken from the PR.)

I never intended to catch Side Effects during its theatrical run, but when I found myself standing in my local cinema staring a list of films that I'd already seen I decided to give it a whirl. All I really knew about the film was what the poster told me, but going into the film without any preconceptions was actually quite a liberating experience in a time when we're constantly bombarded with movie advertising. In any event I found it to be an enjoyable psychological thriller with some fairly decent performances from the likes of Rooney Mara and Jude Law. My only real exposure to Mara before this was in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street and her brief appearance in The Social Network. I disliked the former to the extent that it coloured my perception of her as an actor, and she wasn't really in the latter long enough to form an opinion. Without giving too much away, the believability of her performance here is central to Side Effects' success on multiple levels, and she does a really great job with the material. The ever-dependable Law delivers yet another assured turn as her psychiatrist, and the supporting cast - which includes the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vinessa Shaw and Channing Tatum - are solid.

The film has been described by some as a 'Hitchcockian' thriller, and even without being the world's biggest Hitchcock fan I can see why. Side Effects is really a film of two halves; it initially plays like a corporate drama examining the pharmaceutical industry and the dangers of indiscriminately medicating the nation, before making a tonal shift towards a more conventional detective story replete with twists and turns. Sure it's all a tad far fetched, but it's very entertaining and keeps you guessing about where it's heading longer than many films of a similar ilk. I enjoyed it just as much on the second viewing and I'll probably watch it again, which is more than I can say for a lot of films with a 'twist' ending.

Video


There's a pretty good 1.78:1 widescreen (1080/24p AVC) image to be found on this disc; one that perfectly showcases director Steven Soderbergh's cinematography and accurately recreates the film's theatrical look (to the best of my recollection that is). The colour palette tends to learn towards the warmer end of the spectrum, especially early on, with a surprising number of scenes bathed in a yellow glow. As the film progresses these hues make way for cooler blues and greys and some scenes exhibit clipped whites, but this is quite clearly a stylistic choice rather than a fault with the Blu-ray presentation. Detail is generally strong throughout, and although the image doesn't have the 'pop' that some demand from their HD images close-ups are very revealing. On the negative side I found some of the darker scenes a little noisy and I noticed at least two or three instances of posterisation, but these things could potentially be attributed to shooting digitally (with Red Epic). Comparisons with the US release suggest that the UK disc is a little brighter overall, which may have exacerbated some of the aforementioned issues. Still, these minor niggles don't really detract from what is a very pleasing transfer, even if the look of the film doesn't scream demo material.

Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a low-key affair, but it's impressive nonetheless. The film's subject matter doesn't lend itself to any particularly showy effects, but the track handles the subtleties of such realistic sound design very well. There's plenty of ambience in the form of general chatter at the various hospitals and rainfall during exterior scenes, while the relative absence of sound in the courtroom and mental institution settings is an example of the effectiveness of aural restraint. It's definitely a front-heavy track, with the rears really playing a supporting role. The same is true for the LFE channel, which doesn't get much of a look in at all. Dialogue is well-prioritised in the mix, remaining clean and clear throughout, and Thomas Newman's score is also well-represented. It likely won't knock your socks off, but it is an effective track nonetheless.

Extras


For once the UK has an advantage over the US release in the extras department, featuring as it does almost twice as much content as the Universal effort. However, quantity doesn't always equate to quality... Here's what you can expect to find:

  • Interviews: A collection of brief cast and crew interviews that run for around sixteen minutes in total, but offer little real insight into the film-making process.
  • True to Life: This piece attempts to explore the parallels between the use of prescription medication in the film and in real life, but it attempts to do so in two minutes...
  • Making of: A two-minute fluff piece containing more footage from the film than anything else. To call it a 'making of' is horribly misleading.
  • Reaching Too High: This incredibly short featurette focusses on Jude Law's psychiatrist character, but at less than two minutes in length it has nothing interesting to say.
  • Perfect Couple: This focusses on Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara's characters, but it is very similar to the above featurette in terms of length and quality.
  • Behind-the-Scenes: An eight-minute collection of on-set footage from the filming of one short scene, but it lacks narration to contextualise events.
  • Ablixa Commercial: A very brief faux commercial for the fictional drug taken by the Emily character.
  • Intentin Commercial: Another brief commercial for a fictional ADHD drug.
  • Featurette Shot in Super 8: This brief collection of footage is probably the most entertaining extra, but that's not saying much. It's basically a few minute's worth of behind the scenes stuff, with accompanying voice-over that mocks the actors' privileged lifestyle.

Overall


Side Effects is an entertaining thriller that pulls you one way before heading in a completely different direction. It's not the most complex, impressive or even enjoyable example of the genre I've ever seen, but it's still a solid film and one that I don't hesitate to recommend. The Blu-ray release acquits itself in the audio-visual departments, but while the UK can for once claim bragging rights when it comes to the quantity of bonus material, the quality is incredibly poor. Even so, I'm more than happy to prescribe a dose of Side Effects on Blu-ray. Yes, I went there.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

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