Side Effects (2013), directed by Steven Soderbergh
Dear Mr. Soderbergh,
I am writing to ask on behalf of my readers, my fellow filmgoers and the world at large that you not retire from filmmaking and continue your eclectic and delightful career.
Your latest and last film, Side Effects, reminded me once again why you are such an essential presence in our contemporary cinema. For one thing, at a very basic level, it seems as though most directors have forgotten how to tell a story and make it, you know, interesting. They think they have a decent story, with characters and a conflict of some sort, and that’s enough. They don’t understand that the real storytelling is in the medium, in the way the camera is used, in the editing and the music and the cinematography. They have forgotten what separates film from theatre.
You have never forgotten this. This is why Haywire is one of the best action movies we have seen in some time, and certainly the most thoughtful. It’s why Ocean’s Eleven is one of the best Hollywood popcorn movies of the modern era. It’s why Traffic is so much more than a story about the drug trade.
And it’s why Side Effects is a top-notch thriller and one of the best films of the year so far. It could easily have been a passable psychological thriller, even a decent neo-noir. What makes it both of those things and more, is your touch. It’s the dreamlike lighting and colours that add atmosphere and a sense of discomfort to the entire proceedings. It’s the pacing, the vignette-like sequences, the concise dialogue that forces the viewer to work to figure out just where your movie is going. It’s your talent that makes us care. It’s very rewarding as a viewer.
Listen, no one is perfect. Side Effects outstays its welcome and there is at least one too many twists at the end. It could have been tightened up. Watching Jude Law’s character crack the case is captivating, but by the end I doubt there were many who understood each twist and turn, and unlike a film like The Big Sleep, there’s not enough atmosphere to justify a senseless plot. Simple it up a bit, is all I’m saying. I like that you trust your audience to be intelligent, but we still like that sense of being effortlessly entertained.
But this just goes to prove why you should keep up with the filmmaking. You still have more to learn, more to offer. The greatest thing about your career has been the variety of your projects and your unwillingness to be categorized. Sure this has resulted in misses (I’m sorry Steven, but Full Frontal was terrible), but it has also ended up with some of the most interesting films out there, such as Bubble and The Girlfriend Experience, along with some of the most entertaining movies on our big screens, like Contagion or Magic Mike. And each, whether art house or multiplex fare, gave us something unique, something that looked and felt different from the other movies, and had your stamp on it.
It’s just a shame to lose that, is all I’m saying.
I’m sure you will enjoy painting. I’m also, despite not being a betting man, willing to put a few dollars down on seeing your name up on that big screen again someday. You’ll be back. And we will be the better for it.
Side Effects is in cinemas now.