Dir: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum & Catherine Zeta-Jones
Steven Soderbergh has been making feature length films since the critically acclaimed Sex, Lies, and Videotape back in 1989. Along the way he has been responsible for some great pieces of cinema including Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven and Out of Sight (we’ll just put Magic Mike to one side). However, at the tender age of 50 he has decided to walk away from films-making in order to explore other pursuits (he has a Liberace biopic in the works for HBO). Whilst some of his work has been questionable at best, he has always followed his heart and made his own way in Hollywood. Side Effects may be his final film, but it shows he has lost none of his style or creative touch.
Emily (Mara) has been waiting four years for her husband (Tatum) to get out of prison following his conviction for insider trading. It should be a happy time, but Emily is struggling to cope with his release. Following a suicide attempt, she is visited by psychiatrist Dr Banks (Law) who takes her on as a patient. After speaking to her former shrink Dr Siebert (Zeta-Jones), he decides to start her on a new wonder drug; producing unexpected side effects.
If Side Effects does turn out to be his last hurrah, Soderbergh has proved that he still has the knack for making dense, disturbing and thought provoking movies. There is an unsettling atmosphere throughout, with Mara alternating between scared and scary; the whole thing feels very Hitchcockian. The writing and editing give it an off-kilter feel; making it both unsettling and somewhat bewildering, and keeping you guessing to the very end.
I’ve heard criticism levelled at Side Effects for not tackling the culture of medication in America head-on, but what it does do is paint a grotesque caricature of the worrying obsession with prescribing anti-depressants in the States. Rooney Mara puts in a performance that is up there with some of the leading ladies from classic psychological dramas. The feeling of wrongness lingers for the entirety, and despite seeming more than slightly preposterous at times, it will keep you glued to the screen.
Whilst Side Effects’ unsettling style may evoke great directors such as Hitchcock, Lynch, Cronenberg and Polanski, it is pure Soderbergh at his extravagant best. On this form, he will be a sad loss to cinema.
Screening now at the Showroom http://www.showroomworkstation.org.uk/sideeffects