Steven Soderbergh is a master of versatility. For close to 25 years, he’s tackled numerous genres for films such as Traffic, Erin Brokovich, and the riotously entertaining Ocean’s Trilogy. However, for every good film of his, he has a bad film. In particular, the last few years have been baffling to me. Contagion, Haywire, and Magic Mike all pleased critics, for reasons I don’t understand. I find his recent output overrated and uninteresting. However, I was getting excited for his most recent release (apparently his last theatrical release), a psychological thriller of sorts called Side Effects.
This was one of my most hotly anticipated films of the year, and while I still think it’s a limp product, it’s not as bad as his other recent output. It’s his best film since The Informant.
The film follows Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), who is stricken by an apparent depression. Her husband (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison, and after a failed suicide attempt, she begins seeing a psychiatrist (Jude Law) who takes a keen interest in her case, and writes her up a prescription for Ablixa, a new anti-depressant drug. However, unforeseen circumstances begin to arise, presumably the ramifications of Ablixa. This leads to numerous twists and turns throughout, as the lives of the individuals are heavily affected.
The film is very methodical in its execution, supplies great suspense throughout, and does make interesting pharmaceutical commentary, even if I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a “psychological” thriller. I particularly like the way these characters are written, and the actors do an admirable, even fantastic job of bringing them fully and believably to the screen, particularly Rooney Mara, whose character is all sorts of complicated. I can’t go into much detail about Mara without spoiling too much of the film, but with each new reveal getting stranger, her performance just keeps getting better, and she’s absolutely terrific.
However, that’s not to say the film is perfect. The script, while smartly written by Scott Burns, suffers from an occasionally meandering focus, and an unsatisfying ending, but those are ultimately easy to overlook. All in all, Side Effects is a fitting swan song to Soderbergh’s career. Not a great one, as this could have been much stronger, but what we get in the end is still wonderful. I’m sorry I can’t go into more detail about it, but I think so much of this movie’s strengths are in the reveals.
**** / *****