Side Effects: Veal Marengo in an Orange Brandy Sauce Recipe

Year Released: 2013

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

Starring:Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta Jones, Channing Tatum

(R, 115)

“A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.”  Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This stylish thriller takes you for a ride past landscapes reminiscent of Hitchcock.  You can even catch remnants of those sexed up 80s mysteries like The Jagged Edge lurking in the tall grass.  But you’d better keep your eyes on the road, because you’ll never guess what is going to be around the next hairpin curve.

And you’ll not want to think too much about those earlier classics, anyway, because this one will not quite measure up.  Instead of a character-driven film, we have the plot in the driver’s seat, always an indication of a sub par entry.  Gas pedal to the floor, the twists and turns propel us forward, the speed of the reversals perhaps there to keep us from thinking about those little nagging details such as motivation and character consistency.

Side Effects does a great job at grabbing our attention from the get go, though, the camera panning on a blood trail in an otherwise meticulous apartment, the white marble marred by gory footprints.  A beautifully crafted model sailboat rests on a chair, the would be gift a mute witness to that violence.

But this is far from a whodunit, because before very long we find out exactly that. It is the question of guilt – legal and moral  – that takes center stage. 

Who would think going to the movies would be like a mini course in pharmacology? Steven Soderbergh’s film takes us into the realm of pharmaceuticals, particularly those prescribed for depression.  What Silver Linings Playbook treated as a comic catalyst, Side Effects posits as the source for tragedy.

The five characters are all pieces on this cinematic chessboard, but you won’t know which are the true rooks, pawns, kings or queens until the final moments. Without giving too much away, we can at least discuss which ones are most credible in their roles.

Rooney Mara plays Emily, transforming herself from the fearless Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to a waif at the mercy of her serotonin levels.  She is one depressed cookie, turning even more so when her hunk of a husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), finally comes back home after serving a four-year sentence for insider trading. I guess the presence of 2012’s “Sexiest Man Alive” doesn’t quite do it for her.  She is particularly good at vacant stares, tears, and quick trips to the bathroom for “nausea may be a side effect” induced vomiting.

Am I the only critic who thinks Channy Tatum’s Martin is woefully miscast?  The same gym-sculpted body and puppy dog eyes that made him so effective in Magic Mike and The Vow, work against him here.  The former stripper and male model is known for what’s beneath his head, not what’s in it.  He screams backstreet, not Wall Street. Dressing him up in pricey suits, putting him behind the wheel of a trendy sports car, or on the deck of a slick sailing boat isn’t enough to convince me he made his big bucks manipulating the market.  At least they could have given him a decent pair of horn-rimmed glasses.

Oh, I forgot.  That’s what they decided to do with Catherine Zeta Jones, trying to tame the buxom lass from The Mask of Zorro for her role as Dr. Erica Siebert, Emily’s original shrink.  Instead of the sexy librarian look, however, what we get with the severe hairstyle and oh-so-serious demeanor seems more like dress up and play-acting.  Almost a caricature rather than a full-blown character.

Jude Law, again playing against his earlier sexy bad-boy type, as in his recent brilliant turn as Anna Karenina’s cuckolded husband, once more anchors the film.  He is perhaps a little like that Hitchcock archetype, the innocent (in relative terms, at least) man caught by chance in a malevolent maelstrom. Early on his Dr. Banks convinces us of his dedication and professionalism as a psychiatrist when he handles a violent cab driver expertly.  Not only does he speak fluent French to the Haitian, but he also understands his ghost sighting as a cultural aberration rather than a delusional one.  Whether or not his treatment plan for Emily is valid, however, is a question you will have to see the film to answer.

Though she is more a bit player, Vinessa Shaw’s Dierdre casts a dissonant note as the wife of Dr. Banks.  Her suspicions about his past as well as his present ethics might have been convincing were she not so brittle, sniping, and selfish.  She is the distracting flat note in an ensemble that draws attention to itself instead of the group.  Whatever happened to that sweet thing from 2009’s excellent Two Lovers?

This cynical little thriller certainly doesn't live up to the Hitchcock classics it emulates, but it is a nice little distraction.  Enjoy it for what it is.



Film-Loving Foodie 

Before his fall from grace, Martin was a Wall Street wizard who gave Emily a taste of the good life and swept her off her feet.  We see them guzzling champagne in elegant dining rooms of the rich and famous, and nibbling on chic little picnics lunches aboard Martin’s magnificent hand-crafted sailboat.

That’s certainly a far cry from the intimate little dinner Emily must cook up in their rather modest apartment after Martin returns from a four-year prison term for insider trading.  All those vegetables to cut up with the large, gleaming kitchen knife…

Let’s return to the better days, and join Martin and Emily for a posh supper of Veal Marengo in Orange Brandy Sauce. 

This little recipe is from Different Drummer’s own Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover’s Cookbook.  You can order it now to avoid the Christmas rush.. Or look to the left from a free sample download to find something special to whip up tonight.

Veal Marengo in An Orange Brandy Sauce

1/4 cup corn oil                                           

4 pounds well trimmed veal shoulder, cut into 1-inc cubes; or veal shank cut off the bone, trimmed well and cut into 1-inch cubes.  

Salt and pepper to taste            

4 tablespoons butter                                                  

3 tablespoons flour                                                   

2 tablepsoons butter                                                              

3 onions, cut in half, and sliced into half moons

3 cups dry white wine

1 cup tomato puree

1 teaspoon tarragon

1/2 teasoon thyme

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons brandy

1 3-inch piece orange rind

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound fresh mushrooms, quartered        

Heat oil in a wide, heavy skillet.  When hot, brown the veal on all sides.  Do not crowd; do it in several batches if necessary.  With a slotted spoon, transfer the browned veal to a deep heavy pot.  Discard oil and any liquid from skillet. Season the veal with salt and pepper.  Add the 4 tablespoons butter and let it melt over low hear.  Sprinkle the flour over the meat and stir it over moderate heat for about 5 minutes.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in the skillet; brown the onions.  When the onions are browned, add the wine to the skillet.  Boil rapidly for 2 to 3 minutes.  Scrape up all the browned particles with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Add the wine and onions to the veal.  Add tomato puree, tarragon, thyme, garlic, brandy, and orange rind.  Stir to combine everything well.  If you are using veal shanks, wrap 2 of the bones in cheesecloth and add them to the pot.

Cover the pot and simmer over very low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the veal is very tender but not falling apart.  Meanwhile, sauté the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons butter until they are tender and beginning to render their juices.  Add the mushrooms and their juices to the tender veal.  Remove shank bones.  (The cooked marrow from the bones makes a delicious snack on toast).

Drain all the sauce from the veal into a saucepan.  Cover the veal well to prevent drying out.  Simmer the sauce rapidly until reduced to 2 cups and thickened.  Combine the sauce with the veal and serve at once with white or wild rice.

Appetite for Murder: A Mystery Lover's Cookbook