Tentatively billed as the last major motion picture of veteran director Steven Soderbergh, conspiracy thriller Side Effects had an illustrious career’s worth of cinema to live up to in providing the auteur of ensemble with a fitting farewell to the medium he left an unmistakable signature upon. Spanning from deep cult cinema cuts such as Sex, Lies, and Videotape, to Hollywood heist favourite Ocean’s Eleven and Oscar winner Traffic, it’s safe to say Soderbergh has been somewhat prolific. It takes little more than a passing glance at his filmography as a director, screenwriter, and cinematographer to realise that quantity and quality are by no means mutually exclusive when it comes to the director’s distinctive and highly stylised brand of filmmaking.
Staying true to form, Side Effects employs an ensemble cast brimming with big name collaborators including Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. The crux of the plot revolves around young New Yorker Emily, and her doctor’s (Law) choice to prescribe her the experimental anti-depressant ‘Ablixa’. In the wake of Law’s prescription pad bearing both Ablixa and Emily’s names, both his and her private and professional lives begin to take a drastic and irreversible turn for the worse.
The biggest compliment that can be paid to Side Effects is that it is a treacherous film to review. The plot is so laden with carefully choreographed twists and turns that to divulge any more narrative details would surely turn a critique into a spoiler-fest. The tag of Hitchcockian is well deserved when it comes to this superbly acted, highly original tale of the perils of prescription pills. The plot isn’t convoluted or overly complicated but rather genuinely gripping and ingenious in the manner that it slowly peels back the skin of various characters, revealing more than you could ever have bargained for as a viewer – a technique which The Master of Suspense so often inflicted upon his audiences with great gusto and truly shocking degrees of success. The leading outings from both Law and Mara also deserve a great deal of praise; Law matching and often surpassing the strongest most emotive performances of his career, whilst Mara once agin proves she is not only highly versatile as an actress but captivating to analyse and study over the hour-and-forty-minute runtime.
Soderbergh’s swan song has you reeling within the first act and you won’t recover until his cherry-picked cast of characters find their resolution in a reality free from both Ablixa and the director’s potent influence. His integrity as a filmmaker has very rarely been in doubt but hopefully it will be this time and this isn’t goodbye but rather farewell – though if that is truly the case, Side Effects will forever be a reminder of how brilliant and compelling Soderbergh the director and storyteller had grown to become.