Though he has a TV miniseries in development that may well get a theatrical run, Side Effects has been widely publicised as Steven Soderbergh’s last film. If it is, then the world of cinema will have lost one of its most exciting, prolific and interesting filmmakers. Thankfully, he has admitted that this long goodbye may not be the final farewell many have heralded it as. He’s taking a break, that’s all. One day, fingers crossed, he may return.
The promotional trailers and posters for Side Effects make it look similar in tone and approach to Soderbergh’s 2011 compelling film Contagion, a fascinating picture which took a cool and clinical look at how a worldwide flu pandemic would play out. Believe it or not, this is Soderbergh’s third film since that movie (in between he made Haywire and Magic Mike). It certainly starts off in a similar manner, with the camera coldly observing the worsening depression of a wife (Rooney Mara) after her husband (Channing Tatum) comes out of prison for insider trading. A suicide attempt results in her receiving treatment from a kind English psychiatrist (Jude Law).
As you would expect from the title, the side effects of the medication our lead is put on start to become seriously disturbing. The more the film progresses, the more it becomes clear that this is not like Contagion at all. Side Effects is a twisting, genre-bending film and a terrific ride around the horrors of private medicine and the depths of human nature.
Jude Law and Channing Tatum offer rich performances, as does Catherine Zeta Jones as a very stylish doctor, but it is Rooney Mara that really impresses here. Though she earned an Oscar nomination for the title role in David Fincher’s unnecessary remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, her performance didn’t particularly stand out as anything other than generally fine. Here, however, she is superb.
Though not everyone will like the film’s twists and turns (it has been accused of being melodramatic and far-fetched), hopefully some will enjoy the waves of Hitchcockian genius that come with each revelation. It will be sad if Side Effects is Soderbergh’s swan song, but if it is it’s good to see him bow out in style.
Side Effects (2013), directed by Steven Soderbergh, is distributed in the UK by Entertainment One, Certificate 15.