Soderbergh's last (yeah, right) feature film is a scary, diverting treat....
Universal / 107 Minutes / 2013 / Rated R / Street Date: May 21, 2013
It shouldn’t matter, I guess, but the haze of Steven Soderbergh’s purported ‘retirement’ hangs heavy over Side Effects. This pharmaceutical nightmare and his now-at-Cannes Behind the Candelabra claim to be the award-winning director’s final hours as a filmmaker, and while the future will bring what it brings, I’ll gladly bet five dollars that after drumming up a bit of publicity (a la David Bowie’s “Not only is this the last show of the tour, it’s the last show we’ll ever do” circa 1973), he’ll do another Ocean’s.
This lofty haughtiness is unfortunate, because Side Effects is Soderbergh’s best movie in a while. The film’s screenplay doesn’t venture very far off the beaten track, but this star-studded saga is sleek and well-oiled, a dramatic machine that is as enthralling as it is thought-provoking. In his more recent years as auteur, Soderbergh has concocted a glossy coldness as storyteller that fits in perfectly with the pessimistic, paranoiac sensibilities at the heart of Side Effects: he’s the perfect guy for the job.
Our two major story tendrils follow Dr. Banks (Jude Law) and young Emily (Rooney Mara). Banks is the sort of elite, high-profile Manhattan psychiatrist who likes using all forms of state-of-the-art anti-depressants with his patients, and Emily is the stark face of post-millennial depression – as her life falls apart, she turns to medicine to help her plight. And under Soderbergh’s sturdy guidance, Side Effects looks under the pill-popping façade of modern urban life with stark frankness.
In short, it’s a fine, glamorous, feverish film, and if anything, it proves that Soderbergh is a genius when it comes to utilizing starpower. Law is sensational here, and Rooney Mara proves with chameleonic intensity that she’s the real deal. Side Effects isn’t a movie that blazes with aesthetic ambition, but it succeeds brilliantly at telling its story thoroughly and succinctly. Soderbergh should keep making flicks like this and see where they take him.