If Steven Soderbergh's claim that he's retiring from filmmaking at 50 is true, Side Effects will be his final film made for the cinema. (His Liberace biopic, made for HBO, will air this spring.) It's an unfortunate way to cap off a singular career. At his peak, in films such as Out Of Sight and Erin Brockovich, Soderbergh suggested he could've worked alongside Raoul Walsh and Michael Curtiz in '30s or '40s Hollywood.
He quickly ventured beyond the boundaries of such unpretentious entertainments, sometimes to good effect (The Girlfriend Experience, his Solaris remake), at other times producing White Elephant Art (Traffic, Che). The most memorable thing about Side Effects is that it starts out like a modern update of Nicholas Ray's drug melodrama Bigger Than Life and ends up as a curiously tame erotic thriller. It plays like a prank on spectators expecting anything greater than cheap schlock.
Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) suffers from depression as she waits for her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) to get out of jail, where he's serving a sentence for insider trading. One day, she has a sudden suicidal urge behind the wheel as she gazes at a parking garage's exit sign and drives into a wall. Waking up in the hospital, she meets Dr. Banks (Jude Law). Upon her release, she begins seeing the psychiatrist as a regular patient.
He prescribes her a variety of antidepressants, none of which seem to help her that much and all of which have nasty side effects. When she begins taking Ablixa, things start getting better, apart from her sleepwalking episodes. In the midst of one, she commits an act of violence that lands her in real trouble. What follows is so dependent on twists and turns that it's a challenge to review honestly without spoilers. I can say, though, that the depression angle turns out to be a red herring.
This is disappointing, because for its first half hour Side Effects actually treats the subject fairly promisingly. Reportedly, one in 10 Americans takes antidepressants, yet apart from the disappointing Silver Linings Playbook, no American film has examined this phenomenon. At times, Soderbergh seems to have made an anti-antidepressant film, even if their negative consequences are likely to be more subtle than what happens to Emily.
But in the end, the film isn't concerned with depression at all, even though Mara's waif-like performance as a suicidal woman is completely convincing. Screenwriter Scott Z. Burns writes with the self-satisfaction of a bad mystery novelist. He's enamored of "unpredictable" plot twists, never stopping to consider that they're hard to guess because people don't generally act that way.
The material may be second-rate, but Soderbergh's treatment of it is difficult to fault. As he did in The Girlfriend Experience, the director shows a flair for the cool sheen of upscale Manhattan surfaces, hinting at the white-collar malaise underlying it all. Everyone seems one misstep away from losing their jobs, even if they're living in luxury at the moment. The sound design connects scene to scene through overlapping dialogue.
Even so, Soderbergh's craftsmanship can't transcend a weak script. Burns' model appears to be Joe Eszterhas, albeit an Eszterhas largely stripped of his libido. That leaves a faint tinge of misogyny and homophobia to the film's final twists, which evoke Basic Instinct without Sharon Stone's diva charisma to enable queers to side with her and reclaim that film as a camp classic. Side Effects plays like an upscale version of a Skinemax thriller, with the sleaze taken out and replaced with an arty veneer. That's no improvement.
If the greatest pleasure of the movie is seeing "DiCaprio be beautiful again", something about…
worth reading on the subject: an interview with Kubrik assistant and friend.
But an outstanding, penetrating comment!
On the contrary: I can't imagine anybody watching ROOM 237 and *not* wanting to see…
This is worth seeing for any fan(atic) of "The Shining", but the film "Making The…