“Side Effects” Movie Review

     In what he says will be his last film, Director Steven Soderbergh delivers a murder-mystery containing his signature style of drab colorless tones and haunting background music for effect.  Clearly influenced by some of Hitchcock’s best films, Soderbergh weaves a tale that sees many of the film’s most important scenes occur at the beginning , as the fate of some of the more front and center characters is sealed, leaving the others to spend the rest of the film piecing it all together.  Nearly unrecognizable after her turn as Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”,  Rooney Mara plays Emily, a disturbed young woman who once had it all and is battling depression as she puts her life back together.  The screenplay by Scott Burns hits the audience hard from the beginning, setting up the circumstances the characters find themselves in quickly.  At one point, you may think you’re watching a film centering on the pharmaceutical industry, but then suddenly the focus changes when we realize not all is as it seems.

     Emily (Mara) has spent the last four years waiting for her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), to finish a four year prison sentence for insider trading.  In flashback, we are shown images of the lavish lifestyle the couple led previously, only to have everything come crashing down when the FBI arrives at a dinner party and takes Martin away.  When Martin is released, you get the idea his sentence was a necessary evil, an occupational hazard if you will, as he prepares to earn back what he lost, likely via the same means as had in the past.  This situation sets up perfectly what Soderbergh wants us to believe.  Emily doesn’t seem right and is not adjusting well to Martin being back in her life.

     After a suicide attempt, she agrees to be treated by a psychiatrist named Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).  During a series of visits, Emily is prescribed a series of name brand drugs designed to help her with her depression symptoms.  Concurrently, Banks is paid by another pharmaceutical company to test and prescribe to his patients a new drug called “Ablixa”.  Once Emily begins taking Ablixa she seems to change significantly, yet there is also one unfortunate side effect.  Martin catches her sleep walking several times to the point where she is up in the middle of the night making meals for three people and remains in this state even when confronted.  These events eventually lead to the demise of one of the lead characters.

     With Emily in peril, Banks consults with her previous psychiatrist, Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).  Siebert from the beginning is a strange character who always seems to be covering her tracks.  Were you to meet her in real life, I doubt anyone with common sense would trust her as her actions make her a real “snake in the grass”.  Banks realizes this but he seems at an end with Emily and is looking for answers.  The results of Emily’s crime has put his practice and his reputation in jeopardy and is further complicating his marriage as well.  It’s difficult to go on from here since this film is a mystery and giving away further details might ruin the ending.  Save to say, Soderbergh and Burns have weaved one hell of a mess for these characters to inhabit and watching them navigate through the labyrinth of clues makes for a fine movie watching experience, though some audience members may not buy the conclusion.

     Thomas Newman’s score, which is visible throughout the film, creates exactly the right mood and sets up each scene nicely without being overbearing.  Soderbergh uses the score in much the same way Hitchcock did with “Psycho”, and this film has “Psycho” DNA all over it from it’s structure to it’s characters and how each interacts.  I half expected to see Hitch himself do his standard cameo in one of the scenes.  I’ve thought for a while it would be something if a filmmaker could somehow continue in the tradition of Hitchcock films using modern day ideas, but retaining many of the attributes that made his films so unique.  Whereas Brain DePalma was clearly influenced by Hitchcock with many of his films in the 1980s (“Body Double”, “Dressed To Kill”), we really haven’t seen a new generation filmmaker embrace the principles of a dialogue driven, character driven mystery that really gets the audience to think.  Without question, Soderbergh has done that here and if this really is his swan song, then at least he’s going out on top with what is a solid thriller. GRADE: B+