A placebo – ★★★
And so here we are. “The final Stephen Soderbergh movie!” Or at least that’s what he’d have us believing. Chances are the man behind one of the most respected and diverse filmographies of the last 25 years may not be gone for long and he just wants to take a break from churning out two movies a year but you never do know.
Side Effects tells the story of Emily (Rooney Mara) who is prescribed anti-depressants after a suicide attempt and stress brought on by the release from prison of her husband (Channing Tatum) who was convicted of insider trading. Her psychiatrist (Jude Law) also consults with her old shrink to work out what combination of meds to prescribe for her. Then tragedy strikes, things start crumbling and shit gets real.
It’s that early twist and the resulting false accusations against an innocent party that unfurl which draw the film its biggest comparison with the work of Alfred Hitchcock. But those Hitchcockian influences also rest alongside a looming shadow cast by the powerful pharmaceutical companies in operation today. It’s certainly an unusual combination of influences but then again Soderbergh’s career has hardly seen the director shirk away from interesting subject matter. Indeed a focus on industry and science isn’t that surprising following the work he did with films like contaminated watery weepy Erin Brockovich and creepy flu virus flick Contagion. Of his diverse back catalogue the film that Side Effects bears most similarity to that 2011-effort Contagion – only swap out virus vaccines with the world of mental-health medication.
Rooney Mara is weird and mesmerising as the medicated perpetrator, but the film really hinges on her doctor Jude Law’s performance who is as staidly pleasant a screen-presence as ever. Working from a decent if disjointed script from Scott Z. Burns, Soderbergh is really at home with the material and unsurprisingly as an advocate of the latest advances in digital film-making, the film (shot on a 5K Red Epic camera) looks truly gorgeous. However it’s all very clean and functional and it’s hard to see how anyone could say they love the final film, but equally it’s impossible to really find much fault in it either. Ultimately it screams of Soderbergh on auto-pilot, which is still superior to so many other film-makers but does re-enforce the idea that now is as good a time as ever for him to take that damn holiday.
USA / Directed By: Steven Soderbergh / Written By: Scott Z. Burns / Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum / 98min / Thriller, Drama / Release: 1 March 2013 (Ireland, UK, USA, Canada)