Leave it to Steven Soderbergh to turn a seemingly straightforward pharmaceutical drama into a near perfect thriller. In what very well could be his final theatrical film, one of modern cinema’s maestros goes out in style with Side Effects, another geode-like star on his already stellar resumé.
Focusing its lens on young New Yorker Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) and the struggles faced when her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) is released after a four-year prison sentence for insider trading, Side Effects constructs an engaging tale of ambitious, anxiety-riddled millennials. Through Emily’s resulting depression, the various medications recommended for her, and her range of responses to them, a critical portrait of the drug industry emerges, minus the preachy finger-wagging that could easily accompany such a topic. An effective hook that grants the film immediate substance, the level of social awareness is welcome, yet merely a prelude to the wealth of discoveries that follow, each of which perpetuate the thoughtfulness of its carefully-laid foundation.
As the narrative cooks along, aided by each performer turning in fine work, it builds to a major event that greatly alters the lives of Martin, Emily, and her psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), whose prescribed antidepressant plays a part in the crucial action. To reveal more, however, would spoil the immense discoveries that follow and lessen the intelligent efforts of screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, proving that the third time is indeed the charm after penning Soderbergh misfires The Informant! and Contagion. Combined with the director’s three-hat mastery behind the camera, his deceptively smart story blossoms to its full potential and results in the brand of layered mainstream entertainment that only peak Soderbergh can deliver.
Again serving as his film’s cinematographer and editor under his respective pseudonyms, Soderbergh saturates Side Effects with exquisite shots and cuts. Few filmmakers have the ability to achieve such clarity with each composition and inspire energy through their connecting edits, yet like the most exhilarating clockwork in movies, here they are in a fresh new setting, ready and willing to elate audiences with their collective beauty. In Soderbergh’s hands, an everyday sight like the red glow of an exit sign exhibits an otherworldly aura and his camera angles continue to feel innovative. The man simply has an eye for all things interesting, and after 25 plus features and various side projects, it’s a wonder how the surprises keep flowing regardless of the material.
The Side Effects script, however, is superb on its own, and though it doesn’t aspire to be more than an engrossing story, thanks to Soderbergh’s auteurial expertise, the film becomes something more. With so much in its favor, even a hiccup like the film’s final act exposition, in which the proceedings’ artistry is betrayed by spelling out major answers when it appears primed to elegantly show them, is redeemed by its technical prowess. Here, as in every scene, the visuals continue to flow with confidence and prevent a lackluster situation from torpedoing the story. So it goes with a filmmaker who’s mined topics from casino heists to male strippers for maximum cinematic value. His latest and possibly last is no different in its success, and, so far, is the best film of this young year.
Rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language.
Side Effects is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.