Psych Reel

If truly Soderbergh's last, 'Side Effects' is a cleverly paranoid bow-out

Numerous twists make Side Effects a film about which the less said, the better; the one scene the celeb reporters have been talking about spoils the impact. Stephen Soderbergh’s allegedly last movie has a witty, plausible subject, playing on the shudders one gets from seeing cartoony advertisements on television and billboards for antidepressants.

In the film, a serious crime is committed by a deeply depressed Manhattanite named Emily. She’s played by Rooney Mara, who is a revelation. Emily’s defense is that she cannot recall the crime because her meds have turned her into a sleepwalker. This leaves her psychiatrist (Jude Law) legally vulnerable, caught between his own corporate dealings and the reporters from the New York Post. Some clues come via Emily’s former psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones).

While Soderbergh’s beautifully turned series of flashbacks made Out of Sight a classic, the jumping around here keeps Side Effects remote. Law’s skeeviness (this shrink forgets to shave) is well worked; as always with Law, you can never tell if he’s crooked, right up until the end. But the casting of an actress with a Viking warrior vibe (Vinessa Shaw) as the shrink’s wife can’t counterbalance the ambient evil with tenderness—and increases the script’s lean toward misogyny.

Among his many gifts, Soderbergh has a sense of the erotic, for making you feel you’ve seen far more than you have. His soundscapes intensify the paranoia: the prattling of a child during an important TV broadcast, the soughing of a skyscraper, the cutting out of sound entirely. The cleverly matched beginning and ending say “You don’t have to be a homicidal maniac to live in New York, but it helps.”

Soderbergh is claiming this is his last film, and that he now wants to paint. Without sarcasm, I note that his studies of blood splotches on a hardwood floor are very painterly. Hope, then, that he has a nice long vacation, and that one morning, the Eon studio execs try to tempt him out of retirement with a meeting about Bond 24.

‘Side Effects’ is in wide release.