Steven Soderbergh. He’s a director you may know by name, but not likely by face. A decade ago, he was the man responsible for such films as Erin Brockovich, Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven. Classics, by any definition.
But now, he’s creating a new class of films that are flying a bit under the radar. He’s been keeping exceptionally busy with four major releases in about the past two years, Contagion, Haywire, Magic Mike and Side Effects. It appears that perhaps he’s found his muse in young Channing Tatum, who appears in the last three of those.
This new class of films coming from Soderbergh don’t have flashy special effects, nor are they likely to win any Oscars, but that said, they are all remarkably solid movies, and Side Effects may in fact by the best of the bunch.
Side Effects is one of those movies that’s almost impossible to discuss without giving the whole game away. Suffice to say most will go in expecting one type of film, and emerge having witnessed another.
Rooney Mara is Emily, a young woman thrilled to find her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) released from prison after doing a four year stint for insider trading. But his release is not enough to dissipate Emily’s crippling depression, which results in an apparent suicide trip and a visit from a psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).
After a string of prescriptions don’t do the trick, Emily requests she try the latest drug on the market. The one from all the TV commercials. Iblixa, it’s called, or some other similar jumble of letters. Banks consults with Dr. Siebert (Catherina Zeta-Jones), Emily’s last psychologist who assures him it’s likely the best course of treatment.
Emily is better, happy and healthy for a time taking the drug. But then, something happens. Emily does a Very Bad Thing.
The film then shifts into a debate about who is to blame for Emily’s Very Bad Thing. Is it her, responsible for her own actions? Is it the drug manufacturers for failing to properly list side effects? Is it Dr. Banks for continuing the prescription while overlooking red flags?
Side Effects appears on the surface like it’s going to be a lecture on the state of our overmedicated society. People are on pills left and right to help get them through the day, but at what cost? The social commentary here seems obvious.
But that’s not the case. The film takes a second strange turn about midway through that will likely throw even the best predictors in the audience for a loop. It may sound annoyingly vague to say “everything is not what it seems,” but it’s a twist you wouldn’t want ruined.
Jude Law is great here, too long forced to play the smarmy douchebag and never really given a chance to be the good guy. Rooney Mara is even more excellent. The role doesn’t demand Girl with the Dragon Tattoo level commitment, but there are similarities with Emily’s wild mood swings. Channing Tatum is…present. Man, Soderbergh really likes that guy. But it isn’t Tatum’s film this time.
The cold winter months usually offer few surprises, but it’s a treat when they do. Last year’s unexpected win around this time was The Grey. This time? It might very well be Side Effects.
4 out of 5 stars