Side Effects

Year: 2013
Production Co: Di Bonaventura Pictures
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Scott Z Burns
Cast: Rooney Mara, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

If you can believe the on again off again news that Steven Soderbergh is leaving directing, this is his swan song, a Hitchcockian tale of sex, drugs and murder given a very high gloss sheen thanks to his indie-styled approach.

It's easy to think he has it in for drug companies this and Contagion, but both films are thrillers first with no real barrow to push. Of course, you can read a subtext about the western world's increasing dependence on easy fixes instead of doing the work of getting our houses in order, but like the best of the genre (and as Soderbergh himself has said, after the Che films his movies have all been genre), it's not until the reveal of the last scenes you realise you've been played all along.

And like his best genre efforts, Soderbergh brings a visual flair that feels gimmicky when lesser directors try it. The stabbing scene – looking down from the victim's point of view, the camera keeping pace with the knife as it plunges into his stomach – is so disturbingly off kilter and arresting you almost feel like you've been stabbed yourself.

Emily (Mara) hasn't been coping very well since her successful husband Martin (Tatum) went to prison for insider trading. She's been taking a series of anti-depressants to cope, and when he comes out and promises things will be better, she has trouble engaging with the world they try to reconnect with.

After she apparently attempts suicide more than once, psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Law) is assigned to her and prescribes a new drug to help her settle down. Emily starts feeling and acting better, the only side effect bouts of sleepwalking. During one, she seems to be preparing dinner in the kitchen when Martin comes up to her and she stabs him to death.

With Emily in custody claiming she woke up to find Martin dead, Jonathan goes on the trail of finding out what went wrong, pursuing the drug's dubious marketing, Emily's past and her former psychiatrist, Victoria (Zeta-Jones). With his career threatened thanks to the publicity Emily's case is attracting, the hunt for the truth becomes increasingly desperate.

It's all extremely plotty, the performances are great and I don't think Soderbergh could make an outwardly bad film if he tried. But in one sense, I'm glad he's bowing out here (if he indeed does). He's only my favourite director because everything he does is so different from everything he did before. If he's going to start using the same faces over and over again like Tim Burton does with Johnny Depp, his films are going to start feeling the same, and I'd rather he quit while he was ahead.

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