Side Effects is not an easy movie to review without major spoilers, so my thoughts here on the picture will be fairly brief.
Steven Soderbergh is one of the most exciting and versatile directors of the last quarter century. He’s directed everything from sex, lies, and videotape to Out of Sight to Erin Brockovich to Traffic to Contagion to Magic Mike. And there’s that enormously successful Ocean’s 11-13 trilogy, too.
The director has said that Side Effects may be his last theatrical feature, but I doubt this will be the case. I hope not. Soderbergh is way too important to movies to stop making them. Hell, this Sunday, you can watch his HBO Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. It’s getting fantastic reviews by the way and don’t be surprised if I have a review of that posted quite soon.
The plot of Side Effects is pretty damn clever. The film begins as an expose of the pharmaceutical industry with a psychiatrist (Jude Law) treating a depressed patient (Rooney Mara) whose husband (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison. And then it becomes something else entirely.
And… ladies and gentlemen, that’s about all I can reveal about the plot without ruining stuff. You’ll thank me later. Part of the joy of Side Effects is discovering the truly unexpected paths the film goes down. There are plot twists that are genuinely surprising. The movie shifts from one genre to the next with mostly successful results.
Rooney Mara and Jude Law anchor this twisty little picture with effective performances. Their doctor-patient relationship goes through a number of iterations in Scott Z. Burns’ screenplay and their interplay is always intriguing. Many reviews have compared Side Effects to the work of Hitchcock, especially the final half. I can see why, but saying more would spoil the fun.
Even though the Hitchcock comparison is fair, Side Effects doesn’t come close to reaching the level of the master’s greatest works. And it’s not in the upper echelon of Soderbergh’s cannon either, but it is sharply written, well-acted, and will keep you guessing for nearly its whole running length. The last few minutes or so get a tad predictable, but it’s a trip getting there.
*** (out of four)