As true as the sky is blue is this: you should avoid the details of Steven Soderbergh’s latest (and possibly last) film at all costs. Stop watching the trailers. Stop watching the TV spots. And for the love of God, don’t IMDb it. Because while it may be a cliché to say this, “Side Effects” is one giant rollercoaster ride of a movie — one that’ll best draw you into its web if you go in with a clean slate.
A throwback to those classic psychological thrillers of the 80s (think of the films directed by Adrian Lyne), what I can say is this: it tells the tale of Emily (Rooney Mara), a young woman who’s struggling with depression in the wake of her husband Martin’s (Channing Tatum) release from prison. When she starts going to psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) for treatment, he prescribes her a drug that’s fresh on the market – one that has alarming, unforeseen side effects.
Soderbergh has crafted one heck of a film here. It’s sharp, gripping, thought provoking, and over-the-top. He takes a story that wanders into deliciously B-movie territory, and keeps it feeling elegant and polished; we don’t often see movies of this nature turn out to be so impressively constructed. Soderbergh, who also shot and edited the film under pseudonyms, employs his beautiful, unique style of cinematography. The visuals, combined with Thomas Newman’s haunting score, coat the film with a hazy aura; it has that type of dreamlike atmosphere that makes you feel like you’re not entirely present. (The kind of feeling that accompanies prescription drugs, perhaps?)
Rooney Mara, in her first post-“Dragon Tattoo” role, once again steals the show. She has that sort of tragically beautiful face that the camera loves – the kind that communicates everything and nothing at the same time. I really do hope that this isn’t the director’s final film, because she’s the perfect actress to compliment his signature style.
The film’s effectiveness is due in large part to Scott Z. Burns’ mind-bending script. He encourages you to think the movie is about one thing — before throwing you a curveball and flipping the presumed story on its head. It’s dark and provocative, but not humorless. There are a handful of dryly satirical moments that poke fun at our over-medicated, pill-popping culture, and it’s things like that that keep “Side Effects” feeling both clever and current.
Your head will be reeling by the film’s end…but you’ll be coherent enough to know that you can’t wait to go see it again. It should come with its own bold label: WARNING: multiple viewings may occur.