Director Steven Soderbergh is known for memorable films, such as the Ocean's Trilogy and Traffic. The Oscar-winning director has been teasing his retirement from the art of filmmaking for some time now. Soderbergh's Side Effects is reportedly his last theatrical film until further notice. While this isn't one of his masterpieces, it's a solid piece of cinema. With help from writer Scott Z. Burns, this thriller is more clever than it seems to be from a glance. This motion picture twists and turns into an unpredictable plot that will keep you hooked from the first frame until the credits are rolling.
Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is a woman suffering from a deep depression. Her husband (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison, but a lot of her repressed memories and emotions begin to haunt her. After a suicide attempt, she's convinced to seek professional help from Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). He prescribes Emily different prescription medicines, but none of them seem to be working, as her depression begins to become even worse. After Banks prescribes her a new medicine that has just been released on the market, terrible side effects begin to occur.
Scott Z. Burns has written a screenplay that starts as any other crime/drama would. The bare essentials are set up and the characters are provided with a little bit of breathing room before the plot kicks into high gear. Side Effects soon turns into an entirely different type of movie. Once you're starting to feel comfortable with the characters, the rug is pulled out from under you. The tone transitions are smooth and they continue to become more intense until the credits begin to scroll. Soderbergh and Burns keep viewers alert by causing us to constantly doubt our characters. Who is the protagonist, and who is the antagonist? The answers to these questions are in the gray area. These characters are human beings with wants, needs, and temptations. Some of them happen to be corrupt and lost, while others are just trying to keep their heads above water. Side Effects isn't only about the prescription medication, but human behavior as well.
Even with the subject matter, I found myself still itching to learn more about these characters. This is especially true when it comes to the supporting roles, such as Emily's husband. At around the halfway point, the plot isn't the only surprise. Unfortunately, Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns begin to doubt their audiences. While the first half provides viewers with some space to discover what's going on, the second half doesn't trust its audiences. The characters' motivations and the plot twists are explained in far too much detail. Almost everything is expressed vocally, which removes a substantial amount of intensity found earlier in the feature. The ending wraps the story together nicely and viewers will find plenty to discuss with their friends afterwards, even with half of the film explaining itself.
Side Effects has some rather interesting characters, but some of the connections between them are weak. This can primarily be said about the relationship between Emily Taylor and her husband. We don't learn very much about their connection, or the lack thereof. The time spent on explaining the major plot points could have been used developing this crucial relationship. Even though there are some character flaws, at least they're constantly changing as people. The more these roles continue to grow, the more intriguing they become. However, some of the dialogue written doesn't stand up to par with the personalities we see on screen. It ranges from being sub-par to decent. Some of the conversations come across as a bit too theatrical. Burns' script would have benefited from more genuine dialogue.
Steven Soderbergh has managed to get a solid cast to star in his brand-new thriller. With all of the talented women considered for the role of Emily Taylor, Rooney Mara was an excellent choice. She's utterly convincing in this character. Side Effects displays a large range for this actress after delivering an outstanding performance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Jude Law steps out of his comfort zone a little bit as Jonathan Banks. Audiences won't be used to seeing him as this awkward, yet clever professional, but he pulls it off. Catherine Zeta-Jones stars in a smaller role, as Emily's previous therapist. While her character is rather subdued, she offers a decent performance. Channing Tatum is being advertised on the poster, but his character is talked about more than he's actually in it. Soderbergh has succeeded with this talented cast.
Whether or not you're a big fan of Steven Soderbergh, Side Effects is still worth checking out. The story is unpredictable for the majority of the feature, as it continues to twist and turn in different directions. The plot is reinforced with worthwhile performances by Rooney Mara, Jude Law, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Even with these accomplishments, the characters steal the show. They keep audiences caring about what happens to them, which can be rare in modern crime/dramas. Unfortunately, the script has issues with the lack of trust it has in its audience. Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns feel the need to explain every major plot point through the second half of the running time. Despite its issues, Side Effects is a nice surprise. If this is the conclusion of Steven Soderbergh's theatrical career, then this isn't a bad note to end on.