Movie Review: 'Side Effects' -- 3 stars
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones
You could argue that there are better filmmakers than Steven Soderbergh, the Academy Award-winning director of "Traffic," "Magic Mike" and countless other movies. But there is no better craftsman, no one working in the film business who more clearly understands the art of constructing a movie, from decisions such as camera placement and shot length to whatever else best serves the ultimate goal of telling a story with purpose and meaning.
Every new Soderbergh film, even the failures, is a gift for viewers who love movies. "Side Effects," a glossy thriller set in and around Manhattan psychiatric offices, is no exception. Rooney Mara stars as Emily Taylor, a twenty-something struggling with a renewed bout of clinical depression just as her husband (Channing Tatum), an ex-Wall Street big-shot, is released from prison. After a suicide attempt, Emily starts seeing psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes her the (fictional) anti-depressant Ablixa.
The movie offers a full immersion in the world of prescription drugs, as Emily starts dealing with some major side effects possibly tied to the medication and Dr. Banks finds his life and career overrun by turmoil. The camera lingers on Emily's face and body as she crumbles under the weight of her psychological oppression, while Law's well-meaning character grapples with his own slate of imposing dilemmas. Scott Z. Burns' script generates an appropriate sense of displacement and confusion, refusing to show its hand while playing with audience sympathies.
Soderbergh's visual approach enhances that disorientation. The filmmaker presents a high-end portrait of Manhattan, with floor-to-ceiling views of the midtown skyline dwarfing Dr. Banks inside his office, while other scenes are set at the High Line, for example, or on a yacht. These images are enhanced by an abundance of natural light, collectively suggesting a degree of lucidity that directly contrasts with a narrative that's centered on loneliness and structured to slowly reveal its secrets.
Put another way, "Side Effects" is a rare find: a thinking person's thriller, with adult characters facing real-world dilemmas and a high-style approach that relies on classical techniques rather than a rapid-fire, commercialized methodology. Soderbergh recently confirmed to New York magazine his plan to retire from filmmaking after his HBO biopic "Liberace" premieres later this year. Let's hope he reconsiders. Fans of intelligent genre movies everywhere: Start petitioning now.