Steven Soderbergh has been one of Hollywood's most diverse and prolific filmmakers ever since he made his big splash with his Oscar winning film Sex, Lies and Videotape in 1989. In the years hence he has made up to two or even three movies a year: The Limey and Out of Sight in 1998, Traffic and Erin Brockovich in 2000, The very popular and star-studded Ocean's films(2001, 2004, 2007) and vastly smaller films such as Bubble(2005) and The Girlfriend Experience(2009). In addition to being very prolific, Soderbergh managed to do the near-impossible and snagged two Oscar nominations in the same year for directing Erin Brockovich and Traffic...and then he won for Traffic.
So flash forward to 2013 where Soderbergh releases his self-proclaimed swan song: Side Effects, starring: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum. The film was written by previous Soderbergh collaborator Scott Z. Burns(The Informant(2009), Contagion(2011)) and is far from your usual mystery, neo-noir film. To describe the plot of Side Effects without giving away the various twists and turns would be like trying to explain a Hitchcock film without doing the same: it's tough.
The film opens with Emily Taylor(Mara) riding with her mother-in-law to pick up her husband(Tatum) from prison. He has just gotten out after spending some time in the can for insider trading. Emily looks zoned out, depressed and sad. She doesn't look or sound like an excited wife ready to be in the company of her long-absent husband. Emily, after struggling with her depression, decides to see a psychiatric doctor played by Jude Law. After hearing from Emily about her various episodes and torments, psychologically speaking, he prescribes her various drugs that he believes will help her get out of her funk and be able to function in society again including one in a test phase called Ablixa. I'll stop right there as to continue would only reveal all the good stuff that follows, but rest assured the film has it's shocks and surprises that make it worth watching and totally unpredictable.
But is Side Effects a good film to punch out on? It certainly isn't boring as was last year's Haywire but it isn't as exciting or riveting as Traffic and Contagion. The performances are all solid, with Mara once gain showing what a brave and extremely talented actress she is. Law is, for the most part, wonderful in his role. He lends a believability and desperation to his character that comes out of left field and, as a result, the audience cares for him and his goals throughout most of the film. That said, Side Effects left me feeling cold and distant from the story and most of the characters, which may have been the point. The plot and character twists, while surprising and well-earned, were very distracting and confusing to the point where I lost track of whom was after what and why this person was doing this to that person. In all honesty it would probably do well to see the film a second time to fully grasp everything being laid out before you as is the case with many of Hitchcock's films.
All things considered this is a good film with solid performances from everyone involved. It takes genre expectations and flips them on their ears making the film that much more unpredictable, which is a great and fresh thing to do. Another facet of the film that is, in this reviewer's opinion, the best part of the film is Thomas Newman's haunting and atmospheric score. The music is what gives Side Effects the subtle but ever present ominous and devilish vibe that both entrances the audience while at the same time making them uneasy and on edge, a difficult task for any composer.
So yes, Side Effects is a good film and would make genre masters like Hitchcock and Wilder proud. Is it really going to be Soderbergh's final film? Who can say. But one thing to be said is that it definitely leaves an impression, but not one as strong as some of his previous efforts.