Soderbergh's final cinema outing has a fine cast, an authentic milieu and experimental script
Set for early retirement, Steven Soderbergh says Side Effects will be the last film of his we’ll see in cinemas – possibly for good. Whether this proves to be the case or not, this thriller set in the world of prescription medicines is typical of his output of late. Written by Scott Z Burns, who previously scripted the Soderbergh-directed The Informant! and Contagion, like those, Side Effects boasts a fine cast, an authentic milieu and a script that flirts with the experimental. But it also underwhelms in the crucial final third.
Set in New York, the story centres on Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), whose husband Martin (Channing Tatum) has just been released from a four year prison term for insider trading. When Emily deliberately drives her car into the wall of an underground parking lot, seemingly spiralling towards depression, psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) prescribes her the (fictional) drug Ablixa. While it stabilises her moods, it also induces dangerous bouts of sleep-walking.
While this first half feels like a companion to Soderbergh’s own narcotics drama Traffic, lifting the lid on the meds industry, from here onwards the consequences of Emily’s side effects send the film spinning in a more genre-oriented direction. It’s far less convincing, with Soderbergh straying into 1980s Brian De Palma territory, although Catherine Zeta-Jones – in a small but vital role as Emily’s former shrink – eats up the screen with her turn.
Law, too, is better than he was as his Aussie blogger in Contagion, while Mara – in her first major role post The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – shows more of her range than playing Lisbeth Salander ever did. The editing and cinematography (both Soderbergh, under pseudonyms) are also sleek. Yet the success of Side Effects largely depends on whether you buy into its narrative U-Turn. And if you don’t, it’ll stop the film dead.
General release from Fri 8 Mar.