While most films put out during the first quarter of the year are abysmal, Steven Soderbergh’s "Side Effects" makes for a worthwhile trip to the cinema. With a top of the line cast and a script full of unexpected twists, Soderbergh’s follow up to the overrated "Magic Mike" is a fine thriller that will have audiences guessing until the last frame.
"Side Effects" follows Emily Taylor, a young woman whose husband Martin has just finished a four-year stint in prison. Shortly after her hubby’s release, the despondent Emily attempts suicide by crashing her car into a wall. She seeks psychiatric therapy from Dr. Jonathon Banks, who, after consulting with Emily’s previous psychiatrist, puts her on an anti-depressant called Ablixa. Emily’s mental health begins to improve dramatically, but there turns out to be some very unfortunate consequences to her new pill regiment.
"Side Effects"' biggest asset is its performances. Rooney Mara’s Emily makes for a truly unsettling screen personality. Mara, the saving grace of David Fincher’s "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" adaptation, gives a truly realistic portrayal of depression. The 27-year-old is one of the most promising young actresses working today. As expected, Jude Law (who was featured in Soderbergh’s previous medical thriller, "Contagion") does excellent work as Dr. Banks. Law’s smooth-talking persona lends itself perfectly to the role. Rounding out the cast are Catherine Zeta-Jones, who sizzles as Mara’s former shrink, and Soderbergh regular Channing Tatum. The Hollywood hunk isn’t given very much to do here except look like a handsome dimwit. Nonetheless, Tatum’s performance is far more tolerable than his turn in "Magic Mike."
Scott Z. Burns’ screenplay is cleverly written, making for an engrossing story that rarely drags. Furthermore, Burns’ dialogue feels organic—especially in regard to the therapy sessions with Law and Mara. What really makes ‘Side Effects’ a fun ride, however, is how the plot keeps audiences questioning the main characters’ underlying motives. There are ultimately a few too many “gotcha” moments thrown in, but the flick’s multiple twists are, for the most part, well done and uncontrived.
‘Side Effects’ may not be Soderbergh’s crowning achievement, but it’s certainly the best release of 2013 thus far. A clever thriller is hard to come by, and while the film is far from revolutionary, it certainly is engaging. In a movie season plagued by stinkers like "A Good Day to Die Hard" and "Movie 43," "Side Effects" injects the cinescape with a much-needed dosage of quality.