Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh's 'final' film has such a sudden and monumental twist that the audience audibly gasped.
Tom Glasson
March 04, 2013


Any good 'twist movie' carries with it two inescapable truths: joy to behold, bitch to review.

The best to which a critic can aspire is circumspection bordering on indifference, tempered like a card shark sitting on an unbeatable hand. That task becomes even more formidable when the twist itself provides the basis for the entire plot. In those cases, as it is with Steven Soderbergh's latest (and supposedly last) film Side Effects, even just stating what the film's about in the broadest possible terms discloses more than can ever be justified. Ultimately, there's little more that can be said beyond "This film is great and you really ought to see it."

And yet, sufficient as that review might be, in this instance Side Effects' name and tagline — "One pill can change your life" — helpfully offer at least a permissible insight into the movie's umbrella theme: prescription drugs. Its main character Emily (Rooney Mara) flits back and forth from one antidepressant to the next like they were competing brands of cereal, forever in search of that consequence-free panacea to her daily "poisonous fog bank rolling in". Her well-intentioned psychiatrist (Jude Law) dutifully doles out each prescription, just as eager to cure her melancholy yet also candidly advocating certain medications over others in exchange for those companies' generous consultancy fees.

However, just as Side Effects appears to be establishing itself as the fictionalised version of similarly themed documentaries like Generation RX and Prescription for Disaster, it takes such a sudden and monumental shift that the audience audibly gasped in our screening. From that moment on, Soderbergh (who also filmed and edited the movie under pseudonyms) has you questioning and requestioning everything you see and hear, grasping for clarity, and staving off paranoia like the very characters before you.

If indeed this is to be his swan song, then we can take solace in knowing he's left us with another gripping, intelligent, and complex psychological thriller befitting both his status as an auteur and his extraordinary back catalogue of films.


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