Monday 18 December 2017

Warning: may cause drowsiness

Film Review: Side Effects (15A, general release, 106 minutes) ***

Paul Whitington

Steven Soderbergh has announced that this will be his last feature film and that, at the grand old age of 50, he plans to retire from movie-making indefinitely. If this threat does come to pass, Side Effects might just be the perfect way to say farewell, because the drama perfectly sums up Soderbergh's strengths and weaknesses as a filmmaker.

Having presented himself with a devilishly complex plot, Soderbergh does a brilliant job of keeping all his balls in the air, and even works as his own cinematographer (under the alias of Peter Andrews) to create an atmosphere of foreboding and menace.

But having sent his clever legal thriller careering off in one direction, he changes course abruptly late on and seems to be deliberately sneering at his audience's expectations.

He's done this before, and at least he's not some bland hack making lazy genre packages. But his tendency towards excessive cleverness sometimes undermines the veracity of his dramas, and certainly does so here. It's a pity, because Side Effects has the makings of a really good film.

Channing Tatum opens the proceedings, playing a convicted but not especially contrite hedge fund bandit called Martin, who's released from a four-year stretch for insider trading into the arms of his loving wife Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara). He's full of big talk about starting over and moving to Texas, but Emily has been struggling with severe depression.

When she crashes her car in an apparent attempt at suicide, she's treated by a psychiatrist called Dr Banks (Jude Law), who recommends a brand new antidepressant called Ablixa.

But it turns out the drug is relatively untested, and that Banks has been given a fee by a multinational to push it on his patients. And the good doctor finds himself in very hot water when Emily stabs her husband to death while apparently under the influence.

Side Effects is part Hitchcock, part 1970s conspiracy thriller, and for a good hour is very satisfying and enjoyable indeed.

Rooney Mara is very good at playing neurotic women, and Jude Law helps us sympathise with a hard-working doctor who was only trying to get ahead. Catherine Zeta-Jones gives a rather mannered performance as a former shrink of Emily's who seems to know more than she's letting on, but Soderbergh's film looks splendid, and maintains the tension effortlessly.

In the last 20 minutes or so, however, the film turns into an episode of Murder She Wrote, and makes you question everything that went before, and not in a good way.

Director: Steven Soderbergh Stars: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta Jones

Irish Independent

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