A pill-popping plot-twister, “Side Effects” could be the last film of chameleon director Steven Soderbergh’s impressive career. Forgo the trailers and go in fresh.
BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Even if you don’t realize it, you know director Steven Soderbergh.
Since his 1989 debut, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” he’s gone on to make movies in more diverging genres than most working directors. From the mainstream “Ocean’s 11” series and “Magic Mike,” he’s dabbled in sci-fi (“Solaris”), noir (“Out of Sight”), drama (“Traffic”) and art-house (“Bubble”). But now, 50 years old and citing an exhaustion over narrative, he claims he’s retiring from film.
“Side Effects” could be his last outing, and for some, that’s reason enough to see it. But if that doesn’t do it for you, see it instead for its surprises.
See it because it’s never boring.
Emily (played by Rooney Mara) has the kind of face you just can’t trust. Her husband (Channing Tatum) just got out of jail for insider trading, and she knows she should be happy. Instead, she drives her car into a parking garage’s concrete wall.
This is when things get weird.
We never know exactly why Emily seems so sad. Sure, he’s a criminal, but her husband seems like a pretty good guy. She seems to love him. Her doctor (Jude Law) thinks it’s chemical. He writes her a prescription.
And this is the genius of “Side Effects.” For most of the beginning, the story plays out like an unsubtle cautionary tale about over-medicating. Doctors name drop drug titles like crazy; characters talk about prescription drug commercials as if they’re documentaries; and everybody and their mother has an “I went through a hard time last year, and (this drug) really helped me” story.
But Soderbergh is smarter than that. This movie is never about what it seems to be about. As soon as you're convinced that it’s a message film, it turns into a murder mystery, then a paranoid detective story, then a double-crossing thriller. And watching characters — especially Law — adapt to their changing roles is the meatiest part, better than any of the twists or betrayals.
There’s not a lot of hand-holding in “Side Effects,” and that’s what keeps it interesting, like you need to keep up. Movies like these are, in a way, almost about their surprises, so make sure you go in fresh. And yeah, OK, I admit, the ending gets a little crazy. But it’s a good, engaging kind of crazy.
If this really is Soderbergh’s last film, he can go home happy. Like any one of his movies, "Side Effects" is worth seeing.
“Side Effects” (R, 1 hr 46 minutes)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Released: Feb. 8
***.5 (of five)
“Side Effects” keeps you guessing and plays with your perceptions. If you didn’t make it out to opening weekend, consider this your second chance.
Rotten Tomatoes 86% fresh (of 118 critics)
Roger Ebert ***.5 (out of four)
Christy Lemire *** (out of four)