Fed up with the way Hollywood treats directors, Steven Soderbergh has announced his retirement from the cinema – which will be a great shame if it deprives us of movies as enjoyable as his cunning psychological thriller Side Effects, supposedly his last feature film. (Henceforth, he apparently intends to devote himself to such fields as painting and TV; his Liberace biopic for HBO, Behind the Candelabra, is due later this year.)
Throughout his career, Soderbergh has switched genres with ease, from the low-budget indie drama of his remarkable 1989 debut feature sex, lies, and videotape to glossy big-studio capers like the Ocean’s franchise. Side Effects finds Soderbergh switching genres with equal daring – but within the same movie.
The film opens in the realm of psychological drama as we follow the travails of a young married couple, Martin and Emily Taylor, played by Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara – former Manhattan high flyers who’ve crashed to earth. He’s just been released from prison after serving a sentence for insider trading; she’s struggling with clinical depression.
Emily’s mental state brings her into the orbit of expatriate English psychiatrist Dr Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) after she ends up in hospital, having apparently tried to kill herself by driving headlong into a car-park wall. On the advice of Emily’s former shrink, Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Banks prescribes a new antidepressant, Ablixa, for Emily, but she proves to be susceptible to the drug’s alarming side effects…
It would be unfair to give away any more of the plot, suffice to say that the ensuing drama goes through several changes of gear and even more twists. One moment, we’re watching an enthralling exposé of the modern pharmaceutical industry; the next we’re reeling from some well-timed mystery-thriller shocks. And Soderbergh, aided by a sharp script and superb cast, wrong-foots us all the way.
In cinemas from Friday 8th March.
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