Side Effects is a good, juicy thriller with echoes of film noir in its DNA. Director Steven Soderbergh is a genre fan and while his film feels completely contemporary, he and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns have crafted the kind of twisty tale we don’t see very often nowadays.
Channing Tatum plays a financial trader who’s just finished serving a prison term. As he tries to rebuild his life, his wife (Rooney Mara) displays severe emotional problems that cause her to seek out a psychiatrist, played by Jude Law. He comes to regret taking on this particular patient, especially when he learns from another psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones) that she has a troubled history. Clearly, there’s more here than meets the eye here, but Law is the last one to figure that out—and the one who ultimately has the most to lose. For me to reveal more would be a crime, if you’ll pardon the expression.
Law’s character is an unusual combination of hero and patsy. He is far from perfect and isn’t blame-free for what transpires with his volatile patient. (More details I can’t divulge…sorry!) Soderbergh and Burns keep us guessing who’s who and what’s what right to the end of their serpentine story.
Yet the quality that makes Side Effects so fresh—a protagonist who turns out to be a flawed character—also makes it difficult to feel a complete sense of satisfaction when all the story threads are tied up. That’s my only quibble with this highly original, well-cast piece. In an old movie, we would have been able to share a smile with the hero once the dust has settled…but this is 2013 and storytelling, like life, is a bit more complicated than it used to be.