Side Effects Review

Side Effects Review starring Rooney MaraTitle: Side Effects
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z. Burns
Starring: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Rating: R
Runtime: 106 mins
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Adam Sandler. M. Night Shyamalan. Steven Tyler. Bobby Bowden.

What do all of these have in common? If you said that they all bear a resemblance to a breed of dog, you’d be right. Well, maybe Steven Tyler looks more like a lizard. But it’s not these men’s physical appearances to which I’m referring.

All of the aforementioned have (or did in Bowden’s case) overstayed their welcome. None of them seem to be aware of Kenny Rogers’ advice about knowing when to fold your hand and walk away. Steven Soderbergh is poised to avoid that legacy-tarnishing pit, though, as Side Effects is sure to send him out on a high note. That’s if he stays retired.

There’s a possible psychological explanation for men, like those above, not knowing when to hang up their hats and call it quits. Feeling useless to the world and forced to face their own mortality, it’s not uncommon for men to slip into depression when faced with retirement. And that’s where Steven Soderbergh’s final film, Side Effects, starts out.

No, it doesn’t begin with a decrepit and morose retiree. Rather, Side Effects drops us right into the life of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), bringing us face-to-face with depression. Emily is a young woman who once had it all. When her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is sent to prison for insider trading, Emily’s glamorous life is ripped right out from under her, leading to a descent into depression as she’s faced with an uncertain future. When her husband is released (which is where the film starts), Emily is still fighting her anxiety and depression. After a suicide attempt, Emily finds herself under the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Putting Emily on antidepressants, Dr. Banks seeks to help this troubled young woman. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that this will only make matters worse.

The first half of Side Effects plays out like a darkly intimate drama focusing on depression. Despite a brooding performance from Mara, this first half does suffer from a slow pacing and feels a bit on the tedious side at times. But that doesn’t last long. Soderbergh soon forces you to return your seat to an upright and locked position. When Emily’s prescription starts having some problematic and unexpected side effects, things get very interesting.

Shifting gears, Soberbergh sends you on a thrill ride as we go from drama to mystery/thriller. Twists and turns abound, and Scott Z. Burns’ smart script keeps you guessing while Soderbergh’s tight direction keeps you firmly planted on the edge of your seat. While a retiring director’s final film can often be marked by a tired and slapdash feel, such is not the case here. Instead, Soderbergh delivers an energetic and taut psychological thriller which can stand toe-to-toe with the best of the genre. It’s clear the skillful director is enjoying what he does here.

In less skillful hands, Side Effects could have turned into a boring diatribe about the state of the medical industry and the over-medicating of society. While those themes are present, Soderbergh doesn’t let the movie fester in that pool of heavy-handed preachiness. As has become his trademark, Soderbergh defies expectations by flipping the genre, delivering a wonderful blend of intelligent depth and good old fashioned excitement.

Soderbergh has had some hiccups in his career and his filmography isn’t without flaws. But bringing us such great films as sex, lies and videotape, Contagion, Ocean’s Eleven and Haywire, the genre director has had an undeniably solid career. Aided by clever writing and engrossing performances from Mara and Law, Soderbergh’s Side Effects proves to be a potent thrill ride which will serve as a perfectly capable bookend to the director’s career.

 ★★★½ 

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