Movie review: ‘Side Effects'

Oklahoman Modified: February 8, 2013 at 6:23 am •  Published: February 8, 2013

The complexity of emotion, confusion and loss at the film's start gives way to some acrobatic trickery by the end, but “Side Effects” is never less than gripping or entertaining.

‘Side Effects' is twisty, drug-addled thriller

If “Side Effects” is indeed Steven Soderbergh's final film, as he's said it will be after toying with the notion of retirement for a couple of years now, then intriguingly it feels like he's coming full circle in some ways to the film that put him on the map: the trailblazing, 1989 indie “sex, lies and videotape.”

Both are lurid genre exercises, laid bare. Both focus on the intertwined lives of four central figures, including a scene in which one of the men interviews one of the women on video, hoping to unearth a hidden truth.

Both movies are about danger, secrets and manipulation, filled with characters who aren't what they initially seem, all of which Soderbergh depicts with his typically cool detachment.

Twists and double crosses occur and schemes are revealed as layer upon layer of Scott Z. Burns' clever script gets peeled away; it's actually going to be difficult to discuss “Side Effects” without giving too much away.

Yet Soderbergh approaches such dramatic events with the same chilly tone that has marked so much of his work, even as the developments grow more than a little implausible.

Just as matter-of-fact is the way the characters rattle off the names of the prescription drugs they're on and discuss which ones work better than others, from Wellbutrin to Zoloft to the fictitious Ablixa. In an accurate reflection of our impatient times, everyone in “Side Effects” wants the quick fix: for their finances, careers, reputations, sex lives and, most fundamentally, their moods. Fittingly in this New York-set thriller, Soderbergh has shot and edited the film (under his usual pseudonyms of Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard) crisply and efficiently, with occasionally hazy backlighting — one of his signatures — suggesting a dreamlike mental state.

He puts us on edge from the start, through Hitchcockian visual choices, with clues that a bloodbath has occurred in a Manhattan apartment. Flashing back three months earlier, we see that pretty, twenty-something Emily (Rooney Mara) has pulled up to a prison to visit her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum, in his third Soderbergh film following last year's “Haywire” and “Magic Mike”). He's at the end of a four-year sentence for insider trading, which destroyed the lavish Greenwich lifestyle she'd come to enjoy.

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