I don’t know why I’ve had so much trouble posting a review of Steven Soderbergh‘s Side Effects except to say that while I knew I was watching an efficient thriller with unexpected twists and turns, it didn’t get me in the gut. It didn’t turn me on as much as placate me in the way that all Soderbergh films do because they’re always so smart and disciplined and well crafted. But the whole time I was going “hmm, interesting” or “yeah, nicely done” more than “oh, super-cool…I really love this.”
My second problem with reviewing Side Effects in a timely way is that I saw it before Sundance/Santa Barbara, and by the time the embargo was up I had moved on to other places and currents and I had trouble restarting. The initial mojo had left the room. I need to review films fairly quickly…tap, tap, tap…throw it out there. I tried to get it up two or three times and it wouldn’t happen.
The third problem is that it’s hard to review Side Effects without spoiling the plot turns. It’s a bit like Psycho in that you start out with a Janet Leigh-like character (i.e., Rooney Mara‘s)…an attractive woman who’s flawed but basically sort-of sympathetic. And then things turn suddenly and then your allegiances shift over to…well, not a Tony Perkins-like character but a basically good guy (i.e., Jude Law‘s) who’s either made a serious mistake or has been played…and then some more twists occur. I really can’t figure how to dive into this without saying anything.
Mara’s Emily Taylor has a mild-mannered husband (Channing Tatum) just getting out of prison term for insider trading and is therefore a woman with reason to feel at least semi-hopeful about things, but she’s also a little glum and disconnected and not into sex. So she goes to see Law’s Dr. Jonathan Banks, a psychiatrist who prescribes a new medication that he’s getting paid to dispense. This brings Emily back sexually but makes her act…well, oddly in other ways. Or maybe she was always odd. That’s as far as a I can go with this, I think. Things take a sudden turn and before you know it Law is in serious trouble, and then…
I don’t what else to say except there’s some nice lesbo action in the third act. Jesus, I’m dropping the ball here. I have to stop.
Side Effects is a very good film (I actually wouldn’t mind seeing it again) but it’s more of a head-trip thriller than anything else. It has a post-2008 recession vibe, or…maybe I really mean an ’09 or ’10 vibe. It has the same general attitude as The Girlfriend Experience, in a sense, and the last few Sodies for that matter — Magic Mike, Contagion, even Haywire. Quiet ruthlessness, rhymes and reasons on hold, walls closing in, people finagling each other, sidestepping rules or making up their own. A very chilly realm.