The good news is that director Steven Soderbergh’s film, ‘Side Effects’ is a diabolically fun psychological thriller. The bad news is that Soderbergh (Sex, Lies and Videotape, Traffic, Out of Sight) recently announced that he is retiring from making feature films. That’s a shame because he has attained a remarkable body of work. ‘Side Effects’ is one of his best due in large part to the talented screenwriter Scott Z. Burns. It is an intelligent screenplay that is full of plot twists and keeps you guessing to the closing credits. Burns penned ‘Contagion’ and ‘The Informant’ also directed by Soderbergh. His latest script will remind you of Alfred Hitchcock. Hitchcock had the ability to place the lead character in the mystery with the audience. Burns skillfully puts us in the same precarious vantage point.
‘Side Effects’ has one of the most creative marketing campaigns. They made up a website that looks identical to a real pharmaceutical drug. In the film, the anti-depression medication is called Ablixa http://www.tryablixa.com/. “Take Back Tomorrow” is the slogan for the drug. Everyone has seen similar pharmaceutical ads with the side effects warning that it may cause confusion, suicidal thoughts and insomnia including sleep walking. Soderbergh and Burns are poking fun at our society’s dependence on pharmaceutical drugs. The psychiatrist backing the drug is none other than Jude Law. Soderbergh is a master of cinematography and his wide-angle shots of cloudy Manhattan evoke the right depressive tone.
Soderbergh is known for having talented ensemble casts. Solid performances are turned out from Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Martin (Channing Tatum) plays a financial investor just getting out of prison for insider trading. His wife Emily (Rooney Mara) holds down a job while her husband gets back on his feet. The emotional stress takes its toll as Emily slams her car into a parking garage. The astute Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) realizes this was not an accident but an apparent suicide attempt. He makes a deal with Emily that he will keep quiet about it if she seeks treatment for depression with him. Dr. Banks prescribes Ablixa to Emily on a recommendation from Dr. Victoria Seibert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
To reveal anything further about the plot would spoil it for you. At times, the film almost feels like a documentary about the pharmaceutical industry. It feels authentic. Burns did his homework on the subject. The characters are believable when they use medical terminology. The over-prescribing of medication is a growing concern. Let’s face it; the pharmaceutical industry is big business. The story goes into how doctors are wined and dined by attractive pharmaceutical reps and paid exorbitant fees to advocate and prescribe their latest miracle pill. The story deals with Dr. Banks' ethical choices as a psychiatrist. Does he really look out for his patients’ best interests or is he catering to the pharmaceutical industry’s monetary incentives? It’s a fascinating dilemma.
The underrated actor Jude Law plays a convincing doctor. He lives the American Dream in a trendy Manhattan apartment with a beautiful trophy wife. He balances his character between a hero and a chump. It’s refreshing to see a protagonist that has flaws. Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) delivers another standout performance as the emotionally fragile Manhattanite Emily. She is mysterious and smart. She’s a chameleon looking frumpy in one scene to looking elegant in another. You’re drawn into her stoic demeanor hoping to find any clues to the puzzle.
Soderbergh delivers a stylish, well-paced psychological thriller. With so many films out that insult an audience’s intelligence, it is refreshing to come across a smart thriller full of entertaining surprises. ‘Side Effects’ is now playing at Edwards Boise 22 Stadium, Edwards BoDo Stadium 9 and Majestic Cinemas – Meridian.