Steven Soderbergh has created a fascinating body of work over roughly the last 25 years. Soderbergh has done indies (1989’s Sex, Lies, and Videotapes, 2005’s Bubble, 2008’s Che Parts One and Two), documentaries (1996’s Gray’s Anatomy, 2010’s And Everything Is Going Fine), and studio films (1998’s Out of Sight, 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven, 2011’s Contagion). All have been met with varying degrees of success and failure. Most of his films were critically acclaimed (he even won a Best Director Oscar for 2000’s Traffic), but only some were box office hits (in the case of 2012’s Magic Mike, that $7 million film went on to surprisingly gross over $100 million domestially). It’s rumored that his latest film, Side Effects, will be his last theatrically-released film. If that turns out to be the case, then he should be glad that it wound up being a very strong film.
Finally getting a chance to see it, I was quite surprised by the direction the film went (if you haven’t seen this film, please STOP READING!). I went into the film thinking that this would be a story about the side effects of prescription drugs and the victims created by pharmaceutical companies (probably a thought shared by many viewers). The movie actually goes along this train of thought for quite a while. Emily (Rooney Mara) suffers from deep depression, and one day not long after her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum) is released from prison for insider trading, she drives straight into a brick wall at a parking garage. She later meets Dr. Banks (Jude Law), a psychaiatrist who prescribes some medication for her depression. On the advice of Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Emily’s former psychiatrist, Banks prescribes Ablixa for her. Soon, Emily stabs Martin to death while sleepwalking and is arrested. A deal is made with the prosecutor for a not guilty by insanity verdict under the condition that Emily is kept under watch for some time and is continually treated.
Banks is slowly made out to be the scapegoat, losing patients, is fired from the research study he was conducting for a pharamceutical company, and his wife leaves him. This is where Scott Z. Burns’ screenplay surprised me. The film reveals its true nature: a revenge film where the “heroine” is actually a femme fatale and the doctor we’ve been slowly rooting against actually turns out to be the “hero.” Banks keeps digging long after everyone else has stopped, discovering inconsistencies and coincidences that are anything but. The cast really delivered here. Mara proves that her Oscar nod for 2011’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was no fluke, and Law excels as the flawed but ultimately sympathetic doctor. Tatum was fine in his small but important role, as was Zeta-Jones in her small but important role (she even has a plot twist involving a lesbian tryst that straight guys will enjoy). Of course, I must mention Thomas Newman, who delivered a wonderfully enjoyable, low-key score.
Side Effects makes for an interesting companion piece to Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion. In that film, Jude Law played a journalist who supposedly was trying to help save lives and was later revealed to be a slimy douchebag who was simply being paid by a corporation to help spread the panic. In Side Effects, he plays a worn-out psychiatrist who inadvertently endangers a patient but eventually discovers the truth and fights to expose the conspirators involved. A nice reversal of sorts, isn’t it? To sum it all up, Soderbergh’s presumed final film is a fascinating film that is both a conpiracy thriller and an indictment of the pharmaceutical drug companies that are slowly poisoning us. It also doesn’t hurt to have two strong performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara. If this is to be Soderbergh’s final film, then I would like to say thanks to him for his cinematic contributions.