If Side Effects is the last theatrical release of Steven Soderbergh’s eclectic career, then it would be splendid swan song for one of cinema’s most versatile auteurs. While many will dub this expertly crafted noir, penned by frequent collaborator Scott Z. Burns, “Hitchcockian” for its twisty plot that springs surprises on the audience at every turn, this is undoubtedly a Soderbergian affair – from the icy tone that frequently marks many of his films, to the complex, unpredictable characters. And who better to play those unpredictable protagonists than Jude Law and Rooney Mara, arguably his best co-leads in years!
Mara plays Emily Taylor, a depressed graphic designer whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison for insider trading. But instead of his return alleviating her depressions, things only become worse. After a failed suicide attempt lands her in the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Law), a well-off physiatrist looking to make a quick buck with the pharmaceutical companies that court him, Banks puts Emily on a new experimental drug hoping the pills will cure her of her deeply troubling state. For some time things seem to work, until they don’t… and go horribly wrong! Saying more would be ruining the fun of the movie, but let’s just say there’s sex, murder, violence, red-herrings, protagonist changes, misdirection, and a lot of trippy head-games played.
Mara, in her first role since her Oscar-nominated performance in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake continues her remarkable series of performances, bringing to life another dark and complex character with layers to spare. As for the perpetually underrated Law, it's great to see him finally get to play a type of role we hardly see him play these days – one that’s worth his talents!
Although I admit to initially being slightly disappointed in Soderbergh and Burns’ decision not to delve deeper into the problematic mental health industry in this country, their skill and panache at delivering a rich, psycho-sexual thriller akin to Adrian Lynne’s thrillers of the 80s, more than compensates for the lack of gravitas – even it falls off the deep end of preposterousness in its third act. In the end, the key to enjoying Side Effects is to relax, take in whatever Soderbergh, Burns and their actors are offering, and just enjoy the ride, because once you’re done, you’re going to want seconds.
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum & Catherine Zeta-Jones
Rated: R (for violence, drug themes, sexual content, and language)
PS. A note must be made for Thomas Newman’s magnificently haunting score which heightens and enriches the proceedings considerably.