Steven Soderbergh keeps threatening to quit directing films, however it seems he just can't stop working with Channing Tatum at this point. The two have some sort of bromance going on, and Side Effects marks their third collaboration. Soderbergh and Tatum previously worked on Haywire and Magic Mike, and of the three films, I'd rank Haywire first, Side Effects a close second, and Magic Mike a distant third.
One thing I'll definitely miss if Soderbergh does stick to his word and stop directing is his ability to pair actors with roles. He has an incredibly keen eye for placing actors in roles that are outside their comfort zones and for getting terrific - and sometimes completely unexpected - performances from them. With Side Effects, Soderbergh has once more perfectly cast a film. Where Side Effects falls short, however, is in subplots that detract from the overall picture.
Two important things to know right off the bat about Side Effects: Do not arrive late to a screening. This is one film you must see from the first frame on. The second thing is that Side Effects is one of those things that, like Fight Club, you don't discuss in detail. It's sort of like a trip to Vegas in that what happens in a Side Effects screening, stays in a Side Effects screening. The less you know, the better. In fact, I'd advise against even watching a trailer or TV commercial promoting the thriller.
Now, the fact that disclosing anything other than the very basics of Side Effects would be revealing (probably unintentionally) a spoiler makes it extremely difficult to actually write a review. What I can say without fear of spoiling anyone's experience is that Side Effects is one of Soderbergh's best paced movies. Nary a moment of the 106 minute running time goes by that could have been trimmed or doesn't keep your attention. This is a thriller that actually deserves the 'thriller' title.
Side Effects is also smartly crafted in that you believe you're watching one type of film when it's actually about something else altogether. And all of it's held together by a strong performance by Rooney Mara that answers any questions that may linger over whether she's got the chops to lead a movie. Mara is simply mesmerizing, and her performance is revealed to be all the more strong once the twist comes into play.
Soderbergh surrounds Mara with an ensemble that includes Channing Tatum playing her husband who spent time in jail for insider trading and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a psychologist who plays an integral role in...well...everything. Seriously, it's impossible to discuss this movie which is a bit frustrating.
However, while Mara's going to be getting all the praise, Jude Law deserves an equal share. Law's the best he's been in years as a psychiatrist who is led astray by numerous players in this Side Effects game.
Side Effects does make a few missteps in the second half of the film, and there's a relationship included that's completely unnecessary. But if Soderbergh does retire from directing and this is his last theatrical release, he'll be going out on a high note. Side Effects is a complex, perfectly shot and edited film, and one that actually makes audiences think - a welcome reprieve from inane action films and ridiculous wannabe comedies.
Side Effects was directed by Steven Soderbergh and is rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language.
Theatrical Release: February 8, 2013