“Side Effects” reportedly might be the last movie that prolific filmmaker Steven Soderbergh directs. At least for a while.
It's not exactly a case of him going out with a bang.
“Side Effects” works nicely as a taut thriller and an involving mystery that quietly keeps us off-balance until its final, unsettling finale.
But it left me with a bitter cinematic aftertaste.
The moment the movie ended, I felt slightly duped.
“Side Effects” is one of those unpredictably plotted movies that depends on misdirection to mislead viewers so we don't suspect what some of the characters are up to until the very end of the story.
(Spoiler alert! No, wait! Anti-spoiler alert! I'm not actually giving away any surprises in this review.)
When the closing credits came up and I went back over Soderbergh's thriller, I realized I'd been had.
After a crucial, shocking scene, a key character acts in a certain way that the character would not act unless the character knew it would ruin later plot twists for us, the viewers.
Of course, you don't realize any of this during the movie, which, up to the ending, works well as a tightly wound, satirical look at the culture of antidepressant pharmaceuticals before sneaking into homicidal territory.
“Side Effects” stars Jude Law as Jonathan Banks, an eminent New York City psychiatrist, author and occasional industry spokesman, who takes on a needy patient named Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara, the electrifying star of the American remake of Sweden's “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”).
Depressed and suicidal, Emily has spent four years waiting for her hunky hubby Martin (Channing Tatum) to be released from prison on an insider trading conviction.
Martin comes home and promises Emily that he will restore their happy marriage.
But there's something a little vacant about Emily's eyes, something a little dead about her spirit, her attitude.
Banks prescribes a new antidepressant drug for Emily, one that seems to liven her spirits, but place them in a foggy cloud of confusion. She appears to be happy, finally.
It ruins nothing to reveal that a murder occurs at about the half-hour mark (that part is exploited in the movie's trailers and TV commercials), prompting cops to cast a jaundiced eye on Banks' competence — maybe even unethical conduct — as a contributing factor to the crime.
Following a favorite Hollywood theme of “things are not what they seem,” Banks' case gets complicated by Emily's former shrink, Victoria Siebert (the alluring Catherine Zeta-Jones in ultra-slink mode) who worries that the married Banks might be tempted to misuse his position with her.
Soderbergh directs “Side Effects” with a clinical detachment that deliberately bars us from emotionally glomming on to his aloof, hard-to-decipher characters.
Law, reunited with Soderbergh from their earlier medical-based thriller “Contagion” (shot partly in Elgin), plays Banks as an analytical intellect not given to emo influences, but highly effective at thinking out scenarios, a talent that comes into play during the movie's final act.
Mara employs her doe-eyed charisma and slight, otherworldly demeanor to excellent effect, creating Emily as a wounded bird who might be receiving treatment that actually harms her more than helps.
If “Side Effects” does indeed become Soderbergh's cinematic swan song, it will at least be, despite its narrative dishonesty and potential viewer backlash, a respectable, assured work.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.