Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Rooney Mara and Catherine Zeta-Jones
Running Time: 106 minutes
Release Date: March 8
If this is truly goodbye to filmmaking for Steven Soderbergh, it’ll have been quite a ride. Over his twenty-four year career, no director has arguably been more versatile or intriguing than Soderbergh; a man as much at ease with big budget backslapping as he is with experimental art house with porn stars in the lead. With long term projects on Liberace and Cleopatra now destined for HBO and Broadway respectively, we’re left with Side Effects, his final release. And while far from his best work, and even further his worst, it proves a suitable bookend to an always absorbing film career.
Rooney Mara plays Emily, a young graphic designer whose husband has just been released from a four-year stint in prison for insider training. After a failed suicide attempt, she spends time with psychiatrist Jonathan (Jude Law, in a career highlight) who prescribes her a number of anti-depressants, none of which are effective. After consulting with her former doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he puts her on an experimental drug, Ablixa, which seems to work wonders before things take a turn for the worse.
With Side Effects, Soderbergh has let his visual shape shifting—screenwriter Stephen Gaghan once called him “the Michael Jordan of filmmaking”, whatever that means—come full circle, combining the big business lecturing of Traffic and The Informant! with the ethereal atmosphere of The Limey and the flirtatious sexual gymnastics of Sex, Lies and Videotape. Just when you feel you’ve got a grasp on what it’s about—the dangers of untested pharmaceuticals and dabbling with your neurochemistry—he shifts almost instantaneously into a noirish Hitchcockian territory. Whether he gets things right or not, you could never say he’s not interesting, and the same could be said here.
In the lead, Rooney Mara shows her performance in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was no fluke. She gives a powerhouse performance, flipping from a frail woman who can’t get well to a confident, if slightly furtive, embodiment of the desire to get better. Jude Law, too, has continued his streak, excelling in supporting character roles, channeling some of the conniving drive he did so well in Closer. Zeta-Jones, working with a director who brings the best out of her, is excellent as a periphery femme fatale, pulling strings yet keeping her distance. It’s only Soderbergh’s latest muse, Channing Tatum, that suffers most. While assassin and male stripper seemed well within his range, buying him as a stock broker might be the greatest fiction on display.
While its windy narrative unravels a little too much towards its prolonged ending, Side Effects has proved a more than suitable signing off for Soderbergh, but let’s just hope that this isn’t truly goodbye to Steven, merely so long for now.