Here is Steven Soderbergh's latest "Side Effects" and not since Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" has there been so many twists with turns. We are in Soderbergh World most definitely, where the people are as spacey and distant as the angles of concrete skyscrapers featured in his films.
This is a beige and brown New York City where all is transparent glass and alien chrome and given that I had just woken up from a late morning dream of orange and blue triangles with sounds reminiscent of "A Clockwork Orange", before this screening, the juxtaposition was startling.
"Side Effects" initially focuses on the saturnine Emily (Rooney Mara) and the anxiety in waiting for her young wheeler-dealer husband Martin (Channing Tatum) as he is released from prison after four years. Emily seems to have everything going for her: a hunky husband finally clear from his insider trading activity, a good job with a competent ad agency and a spacious (albeit dark) house.
Alas, one afternoon while getting her car, a skittish Emily drops her things on the lot and after a curt apology, gets into her car and drives into the cement wall without fanfare.
She blanks out, and after a few hours, revives to be confronted by Dr. Banks (Jude Law). Emily dismisses her suicidal attempt as a caprice and altogether not worrisome.
Incredibly, the doctor reluctantly agrees to release the anxious Emily from medical care with the condition that she see him as a patient.
This is a bit hard to believe, but I'm well aware that it is a story of intrigue.
Emily is prescribed antidepressants but they fail to work. She comes to Dr Banks, wraith-like and monotone. Emily is put on a new trial medication of Eblixa and we are clued in that there is buckets of money and perks for Dr. Banks, who is recently financially strapped.
Eureka! It appears the prescription works with gusto. After a hot night in the sack with Martin, complete with an abstracted tilted ceiling courtesy of Soderbergh, Emily wants the medicine to continue, even though the pill makes her sleepwalk in a very shocking way, making most every night Halloween.
Martin comes home one evening to tell Emily of some new positive Houston news. Unfortunately, Emily is chopping tomatoes. Shot from the back, her long stringy dark hair is as frightening as any "Ju-on" ghost-jumper. Martin goes in for a stolen kiss, but gets a passive but deadly plunge in the stomach for a response.
Emily stares at Martin gasping for life on the floor like a red fish and promptly cozies up in bed. Needless to say, she wakes up with no memory of the stabbing.
"Side Effects" takes on the industrial tones of a "Law & Order" episode but it is an artistic one. We have several distant and devious characters with several askew Soderbergh-sided camera angles to match and mirror the action.
There is a lot of double-cross, backstabbing, and verbal viciousness at once that you might see coming, but if Dr. Banks' search for the truth goes in circles, the acting is compelling. Law's doctor fits right in with his previous outing as a driven conspiracy theorist in the director's earlier Contagion", although Law is more self centered here.
Nearly everyone glows with a gray green reptilian light, both visually and emotionally, including a dark-glossed Catherine Zeta-Jones as an icy psychiatrist. Rooney Mara remains a darkling sparkle throughout and carries the film, giving interest and verve to the somewhat prosaic "whydunnit" plot.
And, teasingly at its conclusion, the film illustrates the insidiousness of the pharmaceutical industry and its nightshade haunt.
This is one of the very few films in recent years to highlight antidepressants and depression as a vehicle for dramatic suspense. It proves provocative for this reason, and it is the only film that I have seen that quotes the groundbreaking memoir Darkness Visible by William Styron.
All these trappings make "Side Effects" an ample dosage of slinky psychosis and carnal suspense.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org