Steven Soderbergh, who for my money is the most versatile filmmaker of the last 25 years, seems to still be planning that retirement from film.
If I may be allowed to beg and plead otherwise, I’d gladly use his last theatrical film Side Effects as reason for him to hang around a little while longer. But that’s not an option, and I believe an artist should go where they want, fulfill themselves and not others.
And so if the psyco-pharma-thriller Side Effects is the last new Soderbergh film I’ll be able to watch in the cinema for five years, 10 years or longer, I can at least be content and satisfied with what is one of the stylish filmmaker’s best efforts in a long time.
Side Effects stars Rooney Mara as Emily Taylor, a woman struggling with depression while welcoming her husband Martin Taylor (Channing Tatum) home from a stay in prison for insider trading. Taylor soon becomes a patient of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) and begins to receive all sorts of psychological and pharmaceutical treatment.
The film quickly establishes itself as yet another very Soderberghian production – a phrase that I’ve yet to understand how to explain in words and can only grasp by image and feel. Side Effects, like other recent Soderbergh features Contagion, Haywire, The Informant! and Magic Mike, is a very professional, composed, stylish and film enveloped in warm tones. It also is another collaboration with writer Scott Z. Burns.
There’s a lot about Side Effects that I don’t want to talk about for reasons of spoiling plot. It’s a film that, while not utterly dependent on its plot and character maneuvers, is certainly structurally all about them. Through Burns’ screenplay and Soderbergh’s direction, the viewer ends up in a completely different place at the end of the film than they were in at the middle of the film and certainly the beginning of the film. A dynamic, rousing story that critiques the health care system and pharmaceuticals is the blistering reason for this. Burns writes key characters into well-developed human begins, all with faults and glimpses of evil. In that way, it is one of a kind.
But perhaps most key to hanging on to the astonishing, exciting and gripping story that Burns and Soderbergh document is to have fun with it. The characters do a lot of quiet thinking and decision-making, that is to say, things are done and decided without the audience being privy to it. As the film has more than one “main character” we are more observers of a depressing and troubling interaction between multiple than being given any single person’s point of view. These are wonderful, fun characters in the most morbid and morally corrupt way. They are conniving, controlling and convincing. It’s more than just Burns screenplay, it’s Soderbergh’s way of showing, not telling, and the performances that key us in to a lot more than what is just on the outside and shown through their actions.
Soderbergh dominates every genre he touches. He seems to retain originality by approaching all of these different kinds of films with no hang ups and no idea about what a psychological thriller has to be or needs to include. All of the films, as different as they sometimes are, share things and lend bits of themselves to the other ones. Side Effects is certainly a great example of that.
I sat through this Soderbergh film like I’ve sat through all of them. I’m overcome by the beautiful pictures and taken by the strong storytelling tactics. Only this time, I was saddened by the idea that this could very well be the last film from Soderbergh, one of my favorites in the business, that I get to watch in the cinema for a long time.