Side Effects (Movie Review) – Steven Soderbergh’s career capper is visually dizzying and thrillingly effective

Side Effects. 2013. MPAA: R (for sexuality, nudity, violence, and language). Starring: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta Jones, and Channing Tatum. Written by Scott Z. Burns. Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

Steven Soderbergh has firmly established himself as one of the supreme filmmakers in the history of the industry. If not in content, then definitely in style. His films are such ones that you recognize immediately just by the lighting and camerawork, which he does himself. He is one of my favorite directors, and it is sad to hear him say that his latest film, Side Effects, will be his last directorial effort as he moves on to pursue other personal art interests. All power to him, and I wish him the best. Thankfully, out of his 20+ years of making movies, Soderbergh goes out with a bang, capping off his long and meaningful career with a sizzling stunner that is sure to go down as one of his best.

Jude Law teams up with Soderbergh once again after the magnificent Contagion in 2011 and plays a psychiatrist who becomes obsessed with helping a seemingly disoriented patient, played by Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), who has many self esteem issues. Without spoiling anything, I will just say that Law’s character influences Mara’s character to take a certain drug, which has some serious, maybe even fatal, side effects. From there it quickly changes from an above average therapy drama to being a pulse pounding thriller that often feels like the work of Alfred Hitchcock mixed with the artsy tint and framing of Steven Soderbergh.

Rooney Mara is one of the ones to look out for in Hollywood at the moment. After working with one of my favorite directors twice in a matter of two years, (The Social Network in 2010 and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo 2011), and another of my favorite directors in Soderbergh, I see her future as an actress flying off the charts. One thing is for sure regarding Mara. She has range. Her psychotic brilliance in Dragon Tattoo was enough to convince one she could actually be as insane as portrayed, but her role in this film pulls out the quiet and shyer side of Mara. She’s brilliant. Jude Law, being capable of carrying a movie on his voice alone, is absolutely outstanding in this film, offering what I believe to be the best performance I’ve seen from him in a long time. Catherine Zeta Jones, who seems to be getting hotter with age, does a great job in her role, and the rest of the supporting cast was on the ball, as can be expected from a Soderbergh directed film. But let’s take a moment to talk about Channing Tatum. Sure the ladies love him, and to be honest, at the start of his career, I viewed him as a ladies man who I have absolutely no business of being a fan of. A Hollywood version of Justin Bieber, for instance. Then, in 2012, something changed. 21 Jump Street was released, which was one of the funniest films of the entire year. I started to like the guy. Then, he was in two more films in 2012, both of them directed by Steven Soderbergh. The first was Haywire, and even though his role was small compared to the film I’m about to discuss, he provided a solid performance. Then there was Magic Mike, a film that blew myself and many professional critics away. Sure it centered around male strippers, but there was a story, and Soderbergh’s visual flare made it more than enjoyable for a straight male crowd. Now, Tatum returns in Soderbergh’s last film, and although his character feels a bit under developed and has that could-be-played-by-anybody effect, I still think he gave a really good performance.

The script for this film is written by Scott Z. Burns, who also wrote Contagion, appropriately, and is very good, matching, and maybe even exceeding that of Contagion. The main climatic scene in this film is the most intense and jaw dropping scene in any movie released this year.

FINAL VERDICT: Steven Soderbergh caps off his career with a tip of the hat to all his fans with a mesmerizing mind bending thriller. Just when you think you’re in for a typical yet well filmed medical drama, he slams you with an astounding film filled with twists and turns of all kinds along the way. One of Soderbergh’s best movies of his career, and it sizzles at every minute. So long, Soderbergh, and we can only hope you return someday to make another film. You are one of the best. (A-)

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