Considering how massive "Magic Mike" was last year (it brought in $113.7 million domestically on a $7 million budget), it's surprising to hear that director Steven Soderbergh is trying to pass off "Side Effects" as his last directorial effort. While people often think of the "Ocean's Eleven" films or "Traffic" when Soderbergh's name is brought up, his later efforts such as the intelligent disaster thriller "Contagion" and the solid action thriller "Haywire" aren't given their proper dues. If this really is Soderbergh's last film, then "Side Effects" is one hell of a film to have as your swan song.
Emily Taylor's (Rooney Mara) husband Martin (Channing Tatum) just got out of prison and the couple is hoping to get their life back on track after being derailed from their luxurious lifestyle, but as soon as Martin gets home Emily begins to relapse and her crippling depressing episodes suddenly return. She starts seeing a psychiatrist named Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who prescribes several different medications to help Emily's depression and anxiety. The one Emily settles on is a new drug called Ablixa, which results in severe sleepwalking. Emily insists to stay on Ablixa since it results in her feeling better than she has in weeks, but no one can foresee the extreme side effects the new drug causes or how everyone's lives will change because of them.
If you've ever battled with depression or anxiety, then films that deal with the same issue always hit you on a more personal level. Maybe that's why films with bleaker tones have a stronger appeal to some people. Going through that sort of struggle just makes it easier to relate to the story and those characters going through something similar. Life sucks sometimes and all of us aren't able to put on a strong face to deal with it on a regular basis. The combination of that and Emily talking about moving to a big city to study graphic design was like a personal jab at the past. Fifteen minutes in and you already have at least one member of the audience completely hooked. Well done, Mr. Soderbergh.
The first half of the film is a little tough to watch as Emily is trying to take on too much all at once and has a difficult time just trying to cope with everything. Her run-in with suicide doesn't really help matters. Things begin to look up when Emily starts taking Ablixa. There's this montage of Emily and Martin enjoying the day together that are just out in the world being a happy couple. Like "Haywire," "Side Effects" has a pretty engrossing soundtrack but is a completely different style in comparison. During this specific montage, the music sounds like what you'd find in a music box that the film utilizes in some capacity throughout the rest of its duration.
"Side Effects" blind-sides you early on and while there's at least one aspect of the second half that is somewhat predictable everything else is absolutely surprising and you have no idea which direction the film is going to go in. The psychological thriller chooses the slow reveal route as everything bubbles to the surface in a simmering type of manner. It's like witnessing the slow burn of detective work. Not revealing everything all at once intertwined with the unexpected twists and turns along the way and the excellent performances of both Rooney Mara and Jude Law is what makes "Side Effects" so gratifying.
When films try to steer the audience in a different direction these days, it's usually a pretty sad attempt. It's like that surprise party work throws you that the person in the other cubicle spoils for you three weeks in advance, so when something is released that is genuinely unpredictable, it should be a big deal. "Side Effects" has some tricks up its sleeve that even the likes of Christopher Nolan should be envious of.