Side Effects Movie Review
Thrillers don't get much more enjoyable than this one, which shifts cleverly from an issue-based drama to an intriguing mystery and finally into riotously camp mayhem. Over his career, Soderbergh has proven himself adept at all three approaches, and the way he and writer Burns morph from one to the other is so mercilessly entertaining that we can't help but smile. And the cast is having a great time playing along with them.
It starts as an expose of psychotropic drugs, as Emily (Mara) struggles with depression after her husband Martin (Tatum) is released following a four-year prison term for insider trading. Emily's therapist Dr Banks (Law) prescribes a series of anti-anxiety pills to help her, adjusting the medication until the side effects even out. But something still isn't right, and a fatal incident leads to a criminal trial. Meanwhile, Banks begins his own investigation into the case, consulting Emily's previous therapist (Zeta-Jones). But the fallout from all of this is threatening both his career and his marriage to Dierdre (Shaw).
Soderbergh gives the film a seductive tone that's irresistible, with his own gleaming cinematography and witty editing, plus a teasing Thomas Newman score. This allows the actors to create layered characters who can constantly surprise us along the way. Law holds our sympathies as a desperate man trying against all odds to get his life back, while Zeta-Jones is icy and dismissive until her character takes a lively turn about halfway in. But it's Mara who's the real revelation in a tricky role. As Emily's world seems to shift and collapse around her, she reveals an astonishing array of emotions and intentions.
It almost seems like Soderbergh and Burns set out to make a serious drama about Big Pharma, structured like Contagion or Traffic, then decided that a sleazy thriller would be a lot more fun. And indeed it is, especially since the way the shifts as it goes along gradually reveals its trashy soul. Sure, there are references to the inherent dangers in America's money-driven pharmaceutical system, but the movie is like one of those slick thrillers from the 80s or 90s, playing with real issues while sending chills down our spine with a gleefully deranged plot.