Prescription for a Mindfuck
A Pharmacological Thriller from Steven Soderbergh
One year after the surprising Magic Mike—in which rich social commentary was oiled up and shoved into a G-string—Steven Soderbergh returns with another stealthy triumph. For its first 30 or so minutes, Soderbergh's Side Effects presents itself as a straightforward drama, in which a young woman (Rooney Mara) awaits the release of her insider-trading husband (Channing Tatum) from prison. During his time away, she's attempted to correct her ever-worsening depression with a variety of medications, all doctor prescribed, each carrying its own bundle of side effects, from sexual dysfunction to sleepwalking.
As this introductory story proceeds, it draws in a psychiatrist (Jude Law) with deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry, and between the on-the-nose plot points and light melodrama, I wondered if Soderbergh was working some artisanal, postmodern spin on the Lifetime Movie. But as Side Effects continues, another film reveals itself—the real film, the one I encourage you to see, in a big theater crowded with other people.
It's impossible to discuss further specifics without spoiling the movie, so let me just say that it all adds up to a twisty, chilling, sometimes goofy (in a good way) Hollywood thrill ride. The screenplay, by Scott Z. Burns, does just what it should, the performances are all perfectly fine or better (Jude Law remains, in my eyes, a slender vat of unflavored pudding, but this suits his role perfectly), and having someone with the mastery of Soderbergh steering the whole thing is continually rewarding.