CAUTION: Viewing Side Effects may lead to increased desire to watch Rooney Mara act in anything, feelings of anxiety that you won’t go bald as suavely as Jude Law, and intense depression that Steven Soderbergh is retiring from directing. In addition, there may be aggressive reactions to how sharp the story is, unusual thoughts brought on by some of the unexpected moments, and in extreme cases, a new-found respect for Channing Tatum.
In case that label wasn’t warning enough, if you’re doing a study on directors in decline at the end of their careers, you should stay far, far away from Side Effects. If however, you’re looking for a sharp thriller, with enough wit to keep you guessing, and one of Soderbergh’s best films, then this is the movie for you.
The story follows Emily and Martin (Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum) a couple who is coping with life now that Martin is out of prison after four year behind bars for insider trading. To deal with her depression, Emily begins seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) who attempts to help her past her anxiety and depression through an array of medication.
I won’t give a longer plot summary than that, because right after those elements are set up, the plot thickens, the twists begin, and I was on the edge of my seat trying to guess just what would come next. It’d be a crime to take that away from you.
The movie isn’t as rooted in the world of prescription drugs as you may think, and it isn’t as much of a psychological thriller as it was billed as. Rather it falls somewhere in the middle, serving as a courtroom crime drama as much as anything else. That isn’t to say the psychological elements aren’t present, and both Law and Mara handle their internal and external struggle with the kind of skill you would expect from the best award-winning actors. I would even venture to say that Mara’s performance should be regarded as falling somewhere in the ranks of those great performances.
I’m a horror buff, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything quite as creepy as a sleepwalking Rooney Mara. It’s stunning how well she pulled off the scenes of depression and the scenes where she is more zombified than usual. Her entire performance is stunning, from start to finish, and even if the other elements weren’t quite so strong, she would have done more than enough to carry the film.
But the other elements are strong, and that’s due almost entirely to Soderbergh. Nearly every decision he made in crafting every element of the film was the optimal one. Between working with Thomas Newman to create the mesmerizing score, pairing up the seemingly unlikely couple of Tatum and Mara, coaxing excellent performances out of even the smallest supporting actors and every other detail that went into the film, Soderbergh shows in the purest way why he’s one of the most well-respected directors in Hollywood.