If you believe everything you hear, Side Effects might be Steven Soderbergh's final theatrical release. If so, he goes out swinging with one of his riskiest endeavors yet. In a way, the film is and isn't what's being advertised, a psychological crime thriller, but instead a mish mash of a variety genres twisting and bending throughout, sometimes changing without warning. He toys with the audience, making you think you know where it's going, only to pull the rug out from underneath, revealing multiple mind-bending layers. Side Effects rises to the occasion with stellar performances and an engrossing, fast-paced narrative that consistently surprises.
After 4 long years in jail for insider trading, Martin (Channing Tatum) is finally being released much to the delight of his wife Emily (Rooney Mara). Soon after, Emily begins to display symptoms of extreme depression, eventually going to Dr. Banks (Jude Law) for psychiatric help. When she doesn't seem to be getting better, Banks prescribes a new drug called Ablixa that may help. Despite showing signs of improvement, some dangerous side effects cause Emily's behavior to shift in alarmingly violent directions. With the help of her former psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Banks begins looking into Emily's past in hopes of figuring out what's really going on.
While Mara is initially the main focus of the film, it becomes clear that Jude Law's Banks character is the true protagonist as a doctor who is determined to not just help his patient but also understand the increasingly complex series of events. Law is brilliant as a man on a mission whose life is crumbling around him, hopelessly devoted to figuring out the mystery as it threatens to consume him. Rooney Mara matches Law wonderfully by effectively portraying Emily as a troubled young woman on the verge of losing complete control, not just hurting herself but those around her.
The script by Scott Z. Burns is smart and calculated while also being completely aware of how insane its twists really are. The film ultimately deals less with the evil corporate politics and more with the thrilling mystery surrounding complex character motivations. It starts out one way only to continuously morph into something completely different right up until the final thrilling reveal. Side Effects is a cold yet finely tuned piece of cinema worthy of multiple viewings and deeper analysis. As the potential final act ofSoderbergh's career, audiences couldn't ask for a better way to go out. Let's all hope the rumors are wrong.