Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vinessa Shaw, Mamie Gummer
Steven Soderbergh has tackled such diverse subjects as airborne viruses, male stripping, casino heists, and drug trafficking. In his latest, Side Effects, he and frequent screenwriter Scott Z. Burns tackle the world of pharmaceutical companies. Emily (Mara) is thrilled that her husband Martin (Tatum) has been released from jail. Martin was taken away on their glorious wedding day for insider trading. At first life seems to be getting back to normal, but Emily’s past bout with depression and anxiety seems to creep back into her life.
A work party with Martin’s colleagues is more than Emily can handle. Martin realizes Emily has taken a turn for the worst. She decides to take things into her own hands by driving into the wall of a parking garage. She survives and is put into the hands of Dr. Banks (Law), a psychiatrist with his own issues in life. Banks puts her on a variety of anti-depressants and anxiety pills but none of them seem to work for her. He consults with her former shrink Dr. Victoria Siebert (Zeta-Jones) about her past and learns about a miscarriage that she has failed to mention to him. Dr. Siebert suggests a new experimental drug called Ablixa. Emily hears good things form a friend (Gummer) about it and decides to test it. Meanwhile, Dr. Banks is being paid $50,000 to be part of a study on the side effects of Ablixa. Emily believes the drug is really working for her, but Martin sees her going further down the rabbit hole.
Emily’s paranoia and Dr. Bank’s continual fight for her, despite the affect it has on his career and marriage, keep the focus and tension building. The movie takes some interesting turns making sure the audience is never too far ahead in the story. As soon as you think you what the film is about or where it is headed you get spun in a different direction. Many people are drawing comparisons to Hitchcock’s great thrillers. Soderbergh is not merely copying out of the Master of Suspense’s book, but using those techniques to keep the viewer guessing. A good score is vital to any thriller. Thomas Newman’s score subtly plays underneath the action leaving its presence known but without ever forcing the audience into an unwanted reaction or emotion.
Soderbergh typically uses many of the same actors from movie to movie, which I appreciate in his body of work. Law, Zeta-Jones, and Tatum are all veterans to his style of working. Rooney Mara has proven yet again that she is a force to be reckoned with. One would think that after playing Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo she would want a break from such heavy material. Her performance as Emily Taylor is no walk in the park. She slowly peels back the many layers of her character to keep us glued in to what her ultimate motive may be.
Soderbergh has mentioned his plans to retire and that this is his last feature film to be released in theaters. With that comes the retirement of Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard. He uses those pseudonyms whenever he is the cinematographer or editor on his own movies. His Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra” will premiere on HBO in March. I have always been a fan of his work and appreciate his diverse and experimental approach to the films he makes. Some are big box office successes like Ocean’s 11 and Erin Brockovich while others are pure indie trials like Bubble or The Girlfriend Experience. I seem to be the only one I know to have liked Magic Mike. Side Effects is his best movie in years, and it is not to be missed if you like taught thrillers that keep you guessing.
RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)