When Emily Taylor’s (Rooney Mara) husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from a lengthy jail spell for insider trading, she suddenly finds herself unable to cope with the change in her life. After inflicting violence on herself, she is recommended to Dr Banks (Jude Law), a shrink who tries to medicate her through her troubles.
Here we go again; this is Steven Soderbergh’s last film…. Again. Well, the good news is that after the director’s last three disastrous films (all of which were to be his ‘last’), Side Effects is a return to form for the director. However, if you have seen the trailer, you have been led astray, this is not the medicated film we have been led to believe, at least, not in the way we have been led to believe.
Rooney Mara proves that her outstanding performance in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was no fluke; she is wounded, fragile, manipulative and cruel in the film. While it is great to see her smile, the audience is almost always aware that there is something bubbling under the surface. The same goes for Catherine Zeta-Jones as Dr. Siebert, but while Mara’s other side is conveyed through her eyes and the slightest of gestures, Zeta Jones relies on body language and her voice, since she appears to have over indulged in Botox; she still puts in a great performance though. Jude Law continues his streak for picking the right roles as Dr. Banks, the man whose life and sanity begin to unravel after he brings Emily into his life.
The feeling that suffuses Side Effects is that there is something not quite right here. Scott Z. Burns’s script combines with Soderbergh’s direction to create an atmospheric film that subtly twists and turns, but allows the audience to be ever so slightly ahead of the curve. The ending may sail into sight before the characters grasp where things are headed, but that allows the audience to enjoy their reaction, rather than lose the experience to surprise.
Side Effects feels like a dark version of Ocean’s Eleven, with a little Hitchcock thrown in for good measure; close ups of apartment windows definitely evoke thoughts of Rear Window and Psycho, and the twisted story certainly feels like an homage to the director. The problems with the film arise when the story changes from a potential psychological thriller into a medical whodunit with traces of a heist film thrown in for good measure. This does not detract from the film entirely, but the sudden change of pace may jar audiences slightly.
Side Effects feels like Ocean’s Eleven’s older sibling, and a companion piece to Contagion, of sorts. Mara is on top form as the haunted, manipulative Emily, and Law has rarely been better as his character swings from compassion to rage with a quick stop off at passive aggression. Soderbergh’s last film may not be a game changer, but it is certainly a return to form and a reminder that when the director was good, he was truly great. All of a sudden, it will be a shame to see him go.