Starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum
Steven Soderbergh’s career has always been consistent. I will go on record also and say that I don’t think he’s ever really made a bad movie (and yes, I’m including Solaris). But Soderbergh , early on in his career had a bit more pep in his step. He was the guy who a lot of directors wanted to be, the indie guy making bigger budgets films while keeping that indie spirit. But instead of challenging himself, over the past few years he’s sort of rested on his laurels and he simply became a director that a lot of directors wish to become: a dependable director doing dependable work and getting steady work is dependable. Sure that may work for a guy like Barry Levinson, but you want something more from Mr. Soderbergh.
And while we’re talking, it should be mentioned that the movie I am reviewing, Side Effects, is Soderbergh’s supposed last theatrical film. His retirement has been a long time coming and you can’t really say that he will actually retire, simply because when he announced his retirement a while back, it seemed like his name popped more often than not on future film projects. But here we are. So how does Soderbergh go out? Well…he gets close to ending his career on a walk off home run.
Side Effects is a movie that a lot of detail can’t be talked about. I can tell you this: Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a woman who is burdened by her depression and anxiety. The movie begins with her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) being released from prison after being indicted for insider trading. As her and Martin try to restart their life, she can’t shake the ever growing fear that plagues her. After an incident lands her in the care of psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), she starts to feel better but she has moments, bad moments. And one particular moment turns her world and Jonathan’s upside down.
That’s all I’m giving you. Sorry kids, but trust me when I say that Side Effects is finally a movie in this New Year that is actually worth seeing. So the next question is: does Soderbergh find that pep in his step that gave him such an advantage early in his career? Yes, for the most part. Side Effects is a slow burn too as the subtle nature of its reveals works to the films advantage. One of Soderbergh’s strengths throughout his career is how he paces and moves from one scene to another, even sometimes doing so while layering one scene within another. His style and the way he pulls back the curtain compliment each other quite nicely.
He also knows that working with a cast of actors that he’s familiar with helps in pulling really good to great performances out of their work. This gives Side Effects a huge win as this is a movie about its actors conveying their torture, frustration and intellect as they navigate the story and its twists and turns. Rooney Mara really shows off what was hinted at in Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. This is her movie. A lesser performance by either her or Jude Law would’ve sunk this film.
But Side Effects is also a victim of being a little too subtle. Since there are no real “A ha” moments or moments where it’s an equal cat and mouse game, the simplicity to which Banks puts together the puzzle to solve his mystery could’ve been a little more difficult. Also, the movie presents two roads for the plot to take and I wish the other road would’ve been taken. There was a movie that came out about 17 years ago that starred a young Hulk that pulled it off better.
But overall, if this is truly Soderbergh’s final theatrical bow, he ended on a high note. And being a fan of his work, I’m glad I didn’t walk out of this movie shrugging my shoulders in apathy over a good but uninspired movie. Go see Side Effects, I think you’ll like it.