Steven Soderbergh, with what he's stated is his last feature film, is going out memorably. Teaming up for a third time with writer Scott Z. Burns, the pair presents a fresh take on the modern thriller.
Side Effects centers on Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a graphic designer fighting manic depression. Her state of mind is elevated to incomparable levels when her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), returns home from a four-year jail term for insider trading. After an accident leaves Emily hospitalized, she seeks psychiatric help from Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who immediately puts her on medication. Of course, the medication has side effects which will change the lives of everyone involved in Emily's life.
Although the ads concentrate on Mara's Emily, once things get going the focus shifts on Law, and he brings a quaint innocence and na├»vet├ (C) to the role that works throughout. The real star of Side Effects is Soderbergh, a total auteur whose keen eye and vision is felt and seen in every frame. His camerawork, use of muted colors and soft lens shots sets the tone and compliments Emily's (and the film's) dreariness. In addition, the majority of Burns' script is strong as the pair (Soderbergh and Burns) have formed quite a symbiotic tandem.
Side Effects does deal with a lot of misdirection and uses simplicity to help form its desired complexity. Where things go somewhat askew is in the final third where instead of hoping for a more plausible conclusion, Burns and Soderbergh give the audience a seemingly tacked-on ending that tiptoes instead of walks confidently, a stark contrast to the self-assured storytelling of its first and second acts.
Overall, Side Effects is a strong thriller and for the most part will keep audiences guessing. Technically this is an amazing feature that has Soderbergh's stamp all over it. Fans of his work will love it as will fans of thrillers. It's still a fine project but ultimately its drawback is the ending. JV