Steven Soderbergh does his impression of a Hitchcock film. I can’t think of any better words to see or type. You know what I’m talking about, an unravelling set of circumstances and misfortunes bellies a person or people, intersected through others by murder, sex and corruption. Hitchcock made a career out of it, and really nobody did it better. That’s what I like about Soderbergh, and especially the modern day version of him, he’s out to try any genre of film or do whatever that interests him, even if it’s not in the mold of what he’s done before, that’s why he’s so great. Going from Che to The Girlfriend Experience to The Informant! to Contagion to Haywire to Magic Mike and now to Side Effects, they’re all such a vastly different type of film, but set to provide a whole new set of challenges for Soderbergh.
Side Effects isn’t at all interested in keeping you in the dark, even for a film that relies on twists and revelations to alter the information you have been receiving since the start of the film. It never teases out a reveal, once you as the viewer become aware of the twist and have suspicions, it lays everything out on the table, something that in other movies would be a last act reveal happens a half to two-thirds of the way in and fundamentally changes how each character acts and how you view that character. It’s not a film about tricking you and trying to pull the wool over your eyes, but one that knows all its tricks aren’t left solely up to how and if a twist will work on you.
Jude Law is great at shifting into the differing roles that the film demands of him as the story progresses. At first he’s an uptight and emotionless psychiatrist dolling out pills, later when he gets involved in a murder that he’s tangentially linked to and dragged further down he becomes unstable and unhinged in trying to find out the true motives behind everything, and then once he discovers the truth behind everything he develops a cool confidence that helps him try and extract revenge. Rooney Mara is perfect as a spaced out patient, since Rooney Mara in person seems kind of spaced out to begin with, and always has that look about her that she knows more than she’s letting on. Catherine Zeta-Jones does provide the weakest link in the chain, always seeming stiff and fails to create the menacing tone she’s sometimes asked to give, but she’s in a small role that doesn’t irk the flow of the film.
I don’t bring it up enough, or frankly often forget, but Steven Soderbergh is one of my favourite directors of all time, so much so that I even took a university class on him once. He has such odd sensibilities and clashing interests that when he decides on a film, whatever it may be, you know it’s going to be memorable, whether it’s a straight-up action movie, a remake of a Russian classic or a drama starring a porn star. Suffice to say, I’m very much enjoying his retirement.