In 2011, director Steven Soderbergh made us want to constantly wash our hands after seeing his germ-paranoia flick, Contagion. This year he has decided to frighten us with his medical pill-thriller, Side Effects.
For a man who was contemplating retirement a few years ago, he sure has stayed busy. In between Contagion and Side Effects, he gave us Haywire and Magic Mike. With those two middle projects, I was hoping he would retire ASAP! But after seeing an advanced screening of Side Effects, I think Soderbergh may still have some cinema-mojo left in him.
The film begins with a young wife (Rooney Mara) dealing with serious bouts of depression. Her Wall Street husband (Channing Tatum) has been in jail for insider trading and as happy as she is that he’s being released from prison, she still has anxiety over his upcoming release. With her current meds no longer working, she attempts suicide in a very odd way. This leads to her seeing a prominent psychologist (Jude Law) who takes the opportunity to prescribe her with a new experimental drug, after the drug is recommended to him by his new patient’s former shrink (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
This new drug leads the patient to discover new highs and lows of her bi-polar condition. Her erratic behavior ends up causing a real-life nightmare scenario. She ends up being incarcerated after committing murder and it’s up to her psychologist to prove that this new drug made her commit the crime. As he tries to help her out, he starts feeling like he’s being involved in a conspiracy. He becomes obsessed about his patient’s case so much, that it nearly drives him mad and he starts losing control of his family.
The first hour of the film is terrifically set up, thanks to another brave and convincing performance by Mara. We follow her through the scary condition her character is dealing with and we still want to believe the medicine made her commit murder. It’s not a who-done-it? It’s a what-made-her-do-it?
The last 20 minutes or so is when the film kinda gets derailed. It goes from a medical mystery to a cross between 1987′s Black Widow and 1998′s Wild Things. But this doesn’t take away from the engrossing plot or Mara’s captivating turn. Jude Law also reminds us of how good of an actor he can be when given the right script. This is his best performance in quite some time (although I do enjoy him as Watson in the Sherlock Holmes series). Zeta-Jones is a Soderbergh veteran, so she looks very comfortable in her small (yet important) role. Tatum once again looks out of place and I’m not sure why Soderbergh continues to think he can act. He’s not very believable as a Wall Street-er and he’s the only acting piece that doesn’t fit in the puzzle.
Side Effects is not the movie you think it is and I found that to be a refreshing change. Thanks to Rooney Mara’s chameleon-like acting skills and a seductive plot, you will wanna take this pill and feel the highs and lows.
I give SIDE EFFECTS *** out of ****.