“Imagine everything you ever wanted shows up one day and calls itself your life. And, then, just when you start to believe in it… gone. And, suddenly, it gets very hard to imagine a future… that’s depression.”
If you don’t know what to watch next, Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects (2013) is available on Amazon Prime. The psychological thriller stars Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum. The filmmaker also cinematographed as well as edited the production.
After the release of her husband, Martin (Tatum), from a four-year prison sentence for insider trading, Emily Taylor (Mara) attempts suicide by crashing her car into the wall of a parking garage.
Doctor Jonathan Banks (Law), her assigned psychiatrist, prescribes her an experimental new antidepressant called Ablixa at the urging of her previous psychoanalyst, Doctor Victoria Siebert (Zeta-Jones).
When the side effects prove to be deadly, Doctor Banks finds his personal and professional reputation on the line.
Side Effects is Soderbergh’s masterstroke.
His filmography represents a range of genres, but an antiestablishment thematic stance (anti-corporate America in Erin Brockovich (2000), anti-DEA in Traffic (2000), anti-CDC in Contagion (2011), and anti-private insurance in Unsane (2018)) unites much of his work.
Side Effects takes on big pharma with an aesthetical style like only Soderbergh could be inspired by elegant muse Zeta-Jones to construct, as keen as the mise-en-scene in his Ocean’s series.
But it is Mara out of whom Soderbergh directs the performance of a lifetime. As mind-bending a character as Kim Novak in Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), Emily Taylor is a devastation for anyone who’s ever suffered from mental illness.
It is a sensitive, understated, multifaceted work of dramatic art.
But the film is almost a note-for-note twin to Phil Joanou’s Final Analysis (1992).
The Hitchcockian neo-noir thriller stars Richard Gere as a psychiatrist who meets a woman (Kim Basinger) through a patient (Uma Thurman), only to be caught up in the middle of a tumultuous marriage with her husband (Eric Roberts), to the doctor’s detriment.
If it feels like you’re seeing double, that’s because you are.
What Side Effects lacks in originality, though, it makes up for in quality – it is an evolution of Final Analysis, rather than a rip-off.
There is only so much wiggle room according to the generic conventions of the thriller – the goal is a single reaction, which is to thrill – and Side Effects is thrilling.
It is as thrilling for the critic to deconstruct as it is for the audience to be entertained by it, and that is what makes it the director’s magnum opus.