After Steven Soderbergh announced his retirement, the talk around his final film began and after his recent successes with Contagion and Magic Mike, the anticipation of ‘Side Effects’ has been high, though the film doesn’t need the ‘last film’ hype to support it; people would still be talking about this in ten years time regardless. A medical psychological thriller starring Rooney Mara as Emily, a young wife with a depressive history, and Jude Law as her psychiatrist, Dr Jonathan Banks. After Emily drives her car into a wall at speed in an apparent suicide attempt, Banks steps in to help, trying to assist her in recovery, administering drugs intended to ‘stop your brain telling you that you’re sad’, but when he gives her the newly available Ablixa, disaster strikes and his professional and family life fall apart, leaving questions to be asked which seem to have no answers.
When recommending ‘Side Effects’, and confronted with the question of what it is about, it is extremely difficult to give an answer without wanting to blurt out the whole plot. It is a disturbing tale of deceit where the flawed integral characters give nothing away, duping each other as the narrative dupes the audience. Just when you think you have the plot weighed up, it changes. There is no hero in this story, just greed and trickery which gives it a shockingly current quality and provides a twisted, but brutality honest projection of the society we are living in. Despite the characters not being entirely likeable, it is imperative to see how their stories pan out as even though you don’t necessarily care for the characters, you care about what will happen to them in the end. Not only is the concept exceptional here, but it has visuals that complement it so perfectly. The palette is limited, the shots drained of colour and the use of linear cinematography traps attention. Never has New York City looked so claustrophobic and unforgiving.
So maybe the cast will be underwhelming, drowning in the complexity of the script and the visual strokes of genius, but no, the acting is faultless. Rooney Mara follows on from her beautifully warped performance as Fincher’s Lisbeth Sander with another masterstroke. She’s come a long way since playing Mark Zuckerberg’s girlfriend in The Social Network. The character of Emily is so deeply multilayered and Mara excels, taking it in her stride, portraying a vulnerably fractured soul that on paper would maybe seem far-fetched and making her believable. Not to be outdone is Jude Law with what I think is a career-best performance as Dr Banks. He shows class comfortably as the wealthy, well dressed doctor, so smooth and self confident. Then the character cracks show and a murky past is touched upon, we see Banks descend into a state of paranoia and anxiety, glugging bottles of beer in his pants in the afternoons whilst on a laptop, hunting for evidence to prove his innocence and it’s then when we see Law stand out. It is at Banks’ lowest when Law’s standard is at its highest. The supporting cast are excellent also, Catherine Zeta Jones mysteriously menacing as Emily’s former psychiatrist Victoria Siebert and even walking talking lump of flesh Channing Tatum can do no wrong as Emily’s high flying businessman husband, who’s just spent four years in prison for inside trading.
If this is Soderbergh’s last hurrah, then he will be sitting up from the director’s chair with the knowledge that he has created a masterpiece. He’s got the best out of his actors, put a brilliantly clever script to very good use and made a thought provoking film that deserves all the plaudits it will no doubt receive. If you are only as good as your last film then for Soderbergh, it is a job well done.