(Steven Soderbergh, 2013)
Side Effects begins as a seemingly earnest issue drama focused on the prescription of anti-depressants and the role played in this by the pharmaceutical industry. But midway through the film, there is a twist of the sort loved by writers of thrillers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and suddenly Soderbergh's film reveals itself to be something different entirely.
What that something is, appears to be a twisty-turny thriller of deceit and double-cross, and the silliness of the last act, in particular, may leave some viewers who enjoyed the more nuanced drama of the first half of the film feeling a little short-changed. But Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z Burns are clever and even witty in their use of thriller devices throughout, and the rug-pull at the centre of the film is managed with real skill and subtlety.
More than that, Side Effects is a lovely movie to watch for its beguiling visceral quality. This is not unusual for Soderbergh, who acts as his own cinematographer and editor (under pseudonyms), ensuring his control over every sensory aspect of his films. He gives Side Effects a sickly green palette for much of the first act, suggesting the druggy nausea experienced by one character, then swaps that for a colder world of greys and metallic shades after the twist, as another finds his world collapsing amidst bureaucratic issues. There are numerous beautiful shots here too, and none feels ostentatious. Instead Soderbergh uses abstract shapes and focus pulls to locate or dislocate these people within or from their environments, his camera taking in Dr Banks' (Jude Law) affluent lifestyle, for instance, with a few careful shots, and he is always sensitive to body language and dress.
Banks is the psychiatrist who finds himself a witness in a murder trial when one of his patients, Emily (Rooney Mara) the depressed young wife of a stockbroker recently released from prison for insider-trading (Channing Tatum) awakens in her apartment to find her husband stabbed to death and the knife bearing her fingerprints. The drug she had been prescribed by Banks is blamed, but after his reputation is destroyed he begins to poke around in her story and that of her old Shrink (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and finds a few things don't quite add up.
While that last act is undeniably silly, Soderbergh and Burns deliver it all with a straight face, and strong performances from Law and Mara ensure it largely works. It is nicely shot, sharply written and well acted, and remains a superior, nicely stylish slice of Hollywood entertainment.
Even so, it all feels somewhat slight for something that is supposed to be Soderbergh's "Last" film.