Steven Soderbergh graces us all with yet another illusory treat. Sadly, he will be retiring from cinema, most likely sometime this year. As of now he has one more film on the production line to be released through HBO by summertime. I will miss his panache, his humor and his brazen willingness to try something novel. Not everything he does is great, but you can be sure to respect his gusto and cinematic charisma.
Side Effects, his latest, brings us into a dark world of prescription drugs, deception and enigma. The story follows Rooney Mara (she happens to be Kate Mara's real life sister whom just starred in the brilliant Netflix original series, House Of Cards) though a troubling tale of capricious depressive episodes. Her husband, Channing Tatum, was just released from jail and itching to get back to business. Legitimate or not remains to be seen. Jude Law enters the story as Mara's new psychiatrist when she attempts to kill herself and claims that it was not intentional but something she could not control and needs meds for assistance. Law concurs and gets her on new pills called ablixa. What could be the side effects? I shouldn't give much else away except to say that a thrilling mystery awaits.
What Soderbergh does well in this film is keep us in the dark to the real truth and sustain are confusion, all the while exciting our interest enough to keep us asking questions and actively trying to solve the caper. That is basically the definition of any good cinematic narrative complete with "oh shit" moments and "oh wow" gesticulations. As to be expected the camera work is exceptional, the acting superb and the music by Thomas Newman, taut with quiet anxiety. The yellowy green hues employed are his usual trademark move which does a lot to bring you in to this dreary, melancholy head space. Even his establishing shots, although simple, are interesting and uniquely photographed canted upside down angles. The man knows his craft. Another noticeable 'side effect' of watching his films would be a unique ability to take a stereotypical subject like "pills are bad" or "pills are overused" and turn it on it's head. Ablixa could almost be said to be the 'Macguffin' of the picture. The generalized view that prescription drug use is out of hand isn't even addressed. He approaches the topic with adult sensibilities and doesn't conform to populist viewpoints. Much like he did with Magic Mike. It's smart cinema.
Mara is really a very good actress, I think she will impress you much like she did with Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. This is Tatum's third film with Soderbergh which seems to be an odd choice for a muse but Magic Mike was extraordinary and their best work together so far. Side Effects is not Soderbergh's best movie but certainly not his worst either. I think you will be disquieted, shocked, riveted and squirming in your seats for a good portion of the film. Isn't this why we go to the movies?
Recommended Viewing: The Informant! - Magic Mike - Contagion - Ocean's 13
Bob Scale: The Critic: 8.3 - The Fan: 8.0
Rotten Tomatoes: 85