Numerous twists make Side Effects a film about which the less said, the better: the one scene the celeb reporters have been talking about spoils the impact. Stephen Soderbergh’s allegedly last movie has a witty, plausible subject. This Scientologist’s dream date plays on the shudders you get seeing cartoony advertisements on television and billboards for antidepressants.
A serious crime is committed by Emily, a deeply depressed Manhattanite. She’s played by Rooney Mara, who is a revelation, recalling the most jittery waifs of the ’60s, particularly Mia Farrow. Emily’s defense is that she cannot recall the crime because her meds made her a sleepwalker. This leaves her psychiatrist (Jude Law) legally vulnerable, caught in a fork between his own corporate dealings and the reporters from the New York Post. Some clues are provided by Emily’s severe former psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
While Soderbergh’s beautifully turned series of flashbacks made Out of Sight a kind of classic, the jumping around here keeps Side Effects remote. The film’s poster is telling: four actors all looking in different directions. The material’s essential Michael Crichton-ness could have benefited from a crowd-pleasing approach. Law’s skeeviness (this shrink forgets to shave) is well worked; as always with Law, you can never tell if he’s crooked right up until the end. But the casting of an actress with a Viking warrior vibe (Vinessa Shaw) as the shrinks’ wife can’t counterbalance the ambient evil with tenderness—and increases the script’s lean toward misogyny.
Among his many gifts, Soderbergh has a sense of the erotic, for making you feel you’ve seen far more than you have. The soundscapes intensify the paranoia: the prattling of a child during an important TV broadcast, the soughing of a skyscraper breathing, the cutting out of the sound entirely. The cleverly matched beginning and ending say, “You don’t have to be a homicidal maniac to live in New York, but it helps.”
Soderbergh is claiming this is his last film and that he wants to paint; without sarcasm, I note that his studies of blood splotches on a hardwood floor are very painterly. Hope he has a nice long vacation, and then one morning the EON people try to tempt him out of retirement with a meeting about Bond 24.
R; 106 min.