If Side Effects, an immensely pleasurable thriller centering around psychotropic drugs, really is Steven Soderbergh's final film, as the director claims it will be, then he has peaked in the Valley of the Dolls. Scripted by Scott Z. Burns, who also wrote the screenplay for Soderbergh's Contagion (2011), Side Effects shares, at least at first, the earlier movie's icy fury over the corruption of the medical profession. Yet when this initially pointed critique of our quick-fix, highly medicated era becomes a twisty genre exercise—filled with double-crosses, and blouses ripped-- it doesn't lessen the movie's punch. Side Effects begins with the scene of a crime: blood on the hardwood floors of a modest Manhattan apartment. The film then cuts to three months earlier as 28-year-old Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) applies lipstick the same sanguine hue as the gore in the prologue. Skeletal, morose, and vacant-eyed, she is prettying herself up for a prison visit with her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), who is nearing the end of a four-year sentence for insider trading. Yet Martin's release seems to send Emily into deeper despair. A suicide attempt lands her in the care of overextended shrink Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Emily’s depression seems to be lifting under a new drug though soon one of its unintended effects-- episodes of "acute parasomnia"-- leads her to commit a very gruesome sleep crime. Scenes between Catherine Zeta-Jones, perfect as a steely rival shrink, and Law, even better than he was as the fear-mongering blogger in Contagion, reminds us what we'll be missing if Soderbergh never makes another film: someone to diagnose our national malaise as coolly and seductively as he has.
Steven SoderberghRooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Vinessa Shaw, David Costabile, Andrea Bogart, Kenneth Simmons, Anthony J. Ribustello, Sheila TapiaScott Z. BurnsScott Z. Burns, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Gregory JacobsOpen Road Films