Director: Steven Soderbergh
Studio: Endgame Entertainment
We always suspected Steven Soderbergh might have a crackpot Fatal Attraction-meets-Brian DePalma sex thriller up his sleeve, and the cinematic shape-shifter finally shows his hand in Side Effects, a chilly, twisty and diverting little assemblage of parlor tricks and sleight of hand he claims will be his final theatrical feature.
Written by Scott Z. Burns (Contagion), the movie’s best section deals with the slow downward spiral into depression of an opaque, glassy-eyed young wife (Rooney Mara) who becomes progressively more unhinged with the release from prison of her handsome, Ivy League, ex-Wall Street broker husband convicted of insider trading (Channing Tatum). Our fragile heroine’s deliberately ramming her car into the wall of a parking garage brings her under the care of a psychiatrist (Jude Law)—equal parts painstaking and devastatingly glib—whom Mara somehow convinces, for the purposes of the plot, not to hospitalize her but instead begins private treatment sessions, consulting with Mara’s former therapist (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and glibly prescribing various antidepressants the way someone might suggest trying out different gyms or restaurants.
When Soderbergh has a field day playing with sound, color and editing to terrifyingly show Mara slip-sliding away at work, aboard a luxury barge during a swank cruise party, the movie hits its stride. It’s an icy, creepy and paranoid Rosemary’s Baby in the Valley of the Dolls. And then somebody gets stabbed repeatedly, we fall into a Law-centered movie and, as good as he is playing a guy for whom the walls are closing in, it’s not nearly as fun as watching the doll-like, sleepwalking, seductive Mara apparently losing her marbles. Side Effects becomes all about flashy and lurid plot twists, sexual betrayal and nonsense, with so many double-crosses and so much heavy breathing that your eyes begin to fog over along with your senses.
If this is how the prodigiously talented Soderbergh really wants to bid adieu to the big screen, okay, fine, but when you strip Side Effects right down to basics, it’s just one big, expertly done film noir–lite wink. Or, more to the point, wank.