Starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara. Written by Scott Z. Burns. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. 14A. 105 min. Opens Feb. 8.
Side Effects is the sixth feature that Steven Soderbergh has made since 2008—and his last, he swears, before an indefinite hiatus from feature-filmmaking. Instead, he’ll concentrate on painting, theatre work, and TV projects like Behind the Candelabra, his upcoming Liberace biopic for HBO. So it’s perhaps inevitable that this thriller shares certain traits with many of the movies that immediately preceded it. Traces of Contagion are visible in the new film’s coolly elegant visuals, the presence of Jude Law, and the briskly paced dialogue by screenwriter Scott Z. Burns. In its subtly satirical take on Americans’ pursuit of happiness by chemical means, there are traces of the more acerbic nature of The Girlfriend Experience. And it’s his third film with Channing Tatum, Soderbergh’s main man in Magic Mike, the cinematic strip-o-gram that was the director’s savviest effort and biggest commercial hit in recent years.
Tatum stars here as the husband of Emily (Rooney Mara), a woman being treated for depression by Jonathan Banks (Law), a Manhattan psychiatrist who proves to be just as susceptible as his patients to the marketing tactics of pharmaceutical companies. After Emily commits a horrific act while under the influence of her latest medication, Banks’s decisions come under scrutiny, and his efforts to defend himself lead him to uncover a wider and potentially more sinister conspiracy.
Fitting for a movie with a shrink for a hero, Side Effects is itself afflicted with a split-personality disorder. While the smartest scenes inspire viewers to consider Big Pharma’s influence over our minds and bloodstreams, the ludicrous revelations in the final act are unworthy of the lowliest erotic thriller. Seeing a movie of such poise and intelligence go off the rails so completely, you have to wonder whether Soderbergh started his retirement 20 minutes too early.