Side Effects

Directed By: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum, Ann Dowd, Vinessa Shaw, Polly Draper, and David Costabile

In this first full week of February, I'm going to go ahead and declare it.  Our January slump is over!  We've been plagued with junk movies for weeks now, but that rough patch has finally come to an end.  Some good movies are hitting theaters once again.  The director up at bat this weekend is Steven Soderbergh, and he knocks it out of the park with his gripping psychological thriller Side Effects.  Sleepwalking never looked so dangerous.

Four years ago, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) had it all.  She was living the high life with her loving husband Martin (Channing Tatum).  Unfortunately, he went to jail for insider trading.  For the last four years, she's been struggling to make ends meet and has slipped into a depression.  With all that has happened in her life, she has every reason to do so.  Today though, Martin is finally getting out, and Emily is there alongside Martin's mother (Ann Dowd) to welcome him back into the world.  However, having her husband back isn't the cure to her depression that it's supposed to be.  Recognizing this sad reality, Emily goes down to the parking garage, gets in her car, and drives straight into a brick wall.

Emily somehow survives the suicide attempt and awakens in a hospital where psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) is assigned her case.  Because Emily is regretful of the incident in the garage and he doesn't see her as a threat to anyone, Dr. Banks lets Emily go home with her husband that night.  He does continue to treat her on an ongoing basis.  Recognizing her depression, he prescribes several antidepressants for her.  However, Emily's depression persists despite the treatment, so Banks consults with her previous psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who recommends that he tries some different drugs.  With this in mind, Banks prescribes Ablixa for Emily, the drug of the future.  It initially works miracles for her, but it has some interesting side effects.  Emily begins sleepwalking on a regular basis, and that makes her a danger to herself and others.

I've been revisiting some Alfred Hitchcock classics lately (a Vertigo review is coming soon on the Black and White Reviews column), and I must say that Steven Soderbergh's nail-biting thriller Side Effects bears some resemblance to a Hitchcock thriller in a modern 21st century way.  Soderbergh pulls a few pages out of the Hitchcock playbook in the way his film unfolds.  He builds to this shocking, bloody event in Emily's apartment and then completely flips the script afterward.  As the film continues to unfold afterward and Soderbergh feeds us additional nuggets of information, our perspective on the film's pivotal event continuously shifts.  Soderbergh is ultimately building to a powerful, thrilling conclusion in which everything is revealed, but he's throwing us for a loop to get there.  That's the mark of a smart thriller.

Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, and Rooney Mara's past success as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo shows us that she's well suited to play another insane character.  Whenever Emily is sleepwalking and giving Channing Tatum's Martin a run for his money, Mara is clearly in her element.  She's great at portraying dark, emotionally imbalanced characters, and this is abundantly clear in Side Effects.  As Dr. Jonathan Banks, Jude Law gives a strong performance as well.  Having previously collaborated with Steven Soderbergh in Contagion, Law fits perfectly into this dark world crafted by Soderbergh.  His passionate performance as Emily's conflicted psychiatrist drives the film at times.

The supporting cast members give solid performances as well.  I'm shocked to say this, but Channing Tatum does a decent job as Martin, Emily's loving husband who was convicted for insider trading.  I rarely compliment any acting by this guy, but his work speaks for itself in this flick.  Ann Dowd also provides a strong maternal presence as his mother.  It's good to see her continuing to get good roles after her knockout performance in Compliance last year.  The real standout amongst the supporting cast though is Catherine Zeta-Jones in her slippery performance as Emily's former psychiatrist Victoria Siebert.  Zeta-Jones gives her character this mysterious aura and makes Siebert one of the most intriguing players in the film.

Side Effects is my kind of movie.  It's a brooding psychological thriller with a winding plot and a powerful conclusion.  It's a really intelligent piece of cinema.  With smart direction from Steven Soderbergh and strong performances from its talented cast, Side Effects proves that malingering is a dangerous business.  Side Effects gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.  I still can't believe that Soderbergh threw me of all people for a loop.  I just didn't see what was coming.  He got me with this one.