Soderbergh's surprising 'Side Effects'

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Entertainment,Movies,Kelly Jane Torrance

"Side Effects," a line of trivia on the film's IMDb page tells us, is "Reported to be Steven Soderbergh's final film as a director." Artists often talk of retirement, only to keep working until they can't work anymore.

I certainly hope Soderbergh turns out to be this sort of hypocrite. He's made some of the best films of the last few decades, and "Side Effects" proves he still has a sharp eye and an acute sense for the psychologically disturbing.

It also proves, unfortunately, that the director needs a new screenwriter. Scott Z. Burns also wrote Soderbergh's disappointingly dull 2011 film "Contagion" and 2009's "The Informant!" "Side Effects" is a stylish thriller, one that's mostly entertaining, until it decides one big twist isn't enough.

On screen
'Side Effects'
2.5 out of 4 stars
Stars: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Rated: R (for sexuality, nudity, violence and language)
Running time: 106 minutes

Rooney Mara is Emily Taylor, a 28-year-old New Yorker whose husband has just been released from jail for a very New York crime -- financial fraud. Emily seems like a bit of a drama queen: "To a lot of people, you say 'insider trading,' you might as well say 'murder.' It's like you just stop existing," she says.

She seems to have waited patiently for husband Martin (Channing Tatum) to pay off his debt to society, though. And he's anxious to make it up to her.

But instead of being overjoyed at their reunion, Emily becomes depressed. We know this mostly because she says she is. Soderbergh doesn't show us the details of her depression. The disorder can be inexplicable -- but it has a dark reality that's absent here. We never feel like we really know Emily, the center of this film, at all -- what does she do at work all day, for example?

After a suicidal "cry for help," Emily starts seeing psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). The first antidepressant he puts her on makes her ill. So, after consulting with her old shrink, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he prescribes her a new medication, Ablixa.

But Ablixa has its side effects, too. First, Emily prepares meals while sleepwalking. Then she forgets to get off a train and doesn't show up at work until 4 p.m. And then ... well, that's a plot point that shouldn't be revealed. But suffice it to say that when Banks says that "there's been an incident," he is grossly understating the matter.

This exploration of modern medicine has plenty of interesting lines of inquiry: Pharmaceutical reps buy doctors lunch, and more patients sign on to studies because they'd get their medicines for free. But Burns doesn't follow those promising paths.

Banks is eventually given a sort of ultimatum: "Either way, someone gets punished. Either her or you." Banks' career is all but destroyed because of his "mistakes" in treating Emily; a cop hints that a civil trial could destroy the man himself. Really? A single psychiatrist who's lost all his work doesn't have deep pockets; pharmaceutical companies do. It's ludicrous to imply Banks would be the only fall guy in a situation like this. But then, there are a lot of ludicrous things about "Side Effects."

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