So does Steven Soderbergh’s filmmaking career end with a bang or a whimper? Unfortunately it’s closer to the latter. Out of the genre tombola from which the Out of Sight director seems to pick his projects – his last three pictures have been a male stripper dramedy (Magic Mike), an A-list felling disaster movie (Contagion) and a patsy out for revenge yarn (Haywire) – tumbles Side Effects, a ludicrous thriller disguised as a sociopolitical statement on the US pharmaceutical industry.
This is essentially the kind of woman-on-the-edge flick Theresa Russell might have starred in in the mid-80s. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but, as ever, Soderbergh gives the impression he’s embarrassed by his material, using his now overfamiliar bag of artistic tricks – jaunty camera angles, shallow focus, jaundice filters – in an attempt to elevate his shopworn scenarios.
Rooney Mara takes up the bat-shit crazy lady mantle as Emily. Her husband (Tatum) is a Wall Street hotshot who’s recently returned home after a stint in the slammer for insider trading. The other man in Emily’s life is her shrink, Jonathan (Law), who’s feeding her medication to temper the suicidal bouts of depression that have recently manifested following her hubby’s emancipation. Simultaneously Jonathan’s also taking kickbacks from Big Pharma for pushing thier new product.
According to Side Effects, everyone in the US is medicated; for every malaise there’s a pill. It would be easier to take Soderbergh’s critique of prescription drugs seriously if his film wasn’t itself in need of a solution to its chemical imbalance. Its plotting and tone are schizophrenic, quite frankly, spinning from heartfelt melodrama to man out to clear his name potboiler via sapphic thriller. On this form, a Soderbergh break from filmmaking is just what the doctor ordered.