Side Effects

Side Effects posterEndgame Ent./Open Road (2013) 106 min. R

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Screenplay: Scott Z. Burns

Cinematography: Peter Andrews; Editing: Mary Ann Bernard; Production Design: Howard Cummings; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo; Costumes: Susan Lyall; Score: Thomas Newman

Stars: Jude Law (Dr. Jonathan Banks), Rooney Mara (Emily Taylor), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Dr. Victoria Siebert), Channing Tatum (Martin Taylor), Vinessa Shaw (Dierdre Banks), Ann Dowd (Martin’s Mother) 

The buzz around Side Effects, Steven Soderbergh’s latest, centered on its being announced as his last movie before leaving the industry to answer the call of the higher arts. It was an ingenious marketing gimmick. Advertising Side Effects as his endgame raised its appraisal value exponentially. Viewers were made to feel as though this were their final chance to seek out a Soderbergh film on the big screen, at least until his earlier work is re-released in 3D. The canny director is already exercising the most salient aspect of selling art, by exploiting the fact that a master’s work always increases in value after he passes. Soderbergh is no fool; like his onscreen characters he knows how to manipulate the market.

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Side Effects stars Jude Law as Jonathan Banks, a harried psychiatrist encouraged by a professional colleague, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to prescribe a new ‘wonder drug’ called Ablixa to Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a suicidal patient formerly under Siebert’s care. Emily has suffered from severe depression since the conviction of her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), for insider trading and the miscarriage of their child. While sleepwalking, one of the side effects of the drug, Emily stabs Martin, who had recently been released from prison and lies down in bed.  SE (6)During the subsequent trial she claims to have no memory of the incident and Bank’s is made to seem negligent for prescribing an untested drug, forcing him to question himself. However, all is not as it seems. Soderbergh’s swan song is a sick joke at the expense of psychiatry, advancing the addled Hollywood notion that shrinks are even more disturbed than the patients they’re supposed to be treating. According to Side Effects’ loopy psychological constructs, it’s the seemingly well-adjusted, high functioning people who turn out to be completely off their rockers, and the director derives a nasty pleasure from showing how easily sane people can slip into certifiable behavior. Confined to the booby hatch for instance, Emily starts acting as crazy as she always pretended she was, the surroundings apparently seeping into her psyche, subscribing to the Shock Corridor perception that insanity is contagious.

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Banks’ own life is in tailspin and his priorities up in the air. The good doctor wanders off with Emily, for instance, rather than lending his equally distressed wife a shoulder to cry on, though she needs his counsel just as badly. Banks seems so maddeningly sane, in that rigidly intense, concentrated way Jude Law can be better than any other actor (he’s preternaturally focused, we never catch him blinking), he borders on becoming annoying. He’s like Kelsey Grammer’s arch Frasier, trapped in the body of the spindly David Hyde-Peirce. Only problem is he SE (1a)lacks the saving grace of either comedian’s funny bone, at least until he starts getting jittery and paranoid about being framed and the fun starts creeping back into his performance. His Dr. Banks is thrown under the bus by the manufacturers whose drugs he endorsed, so that the blame for Emily’s actions don’t reflect negatively on Ablixa. The pharmaceutical manufacturers have too much riding on their investment to let it appear detrimental to consumers’ health (“You watch the commercials on TV,” Martin’s stunned mother mourns, “…people are getting better.”), so Law’s career is seen as an acceptable casualty. “She’s either a murderer or a victim of her medical treatment,” he’s assured. Either way, “Someone gets punished.” Having created a lethal chemical cocktail by negligently adding medications to Emily’s prescription, to balance out SE (90)the negative side effects, he’s hung out to dry. Left wide open for a medical malpractice lawsuit, Banks is suddenly being investigated as if he were the murder suspect. Believing he’s just being subpoenaed to testify in Emily’s trial as an expert witness, Banks is really being reeled in to cast aspersions on his competency as a medical professional, thereby deflecting guilt away from her. Having been performing in the capacity of a pharmaceutical consultant, working longer hours in order to maintain his affluent lifestyle, the added workload and higher volume of patients is blamed for having increased his stress levels, causing him to slip up. The way it’s made to appear, Banks is the one who snapped, prescribing the wrong dosage, screwing up Emily’s chemical balance, leading to Martin’s murder. Even Emily blames him for recommending she stay on Ablixa, making it seem as if he wanted to keep her strung out, SE (26)cloudy-minded, and completely dependent on him. His colleagues fear much the same, that he slipped up because Emily looked like such a fragile, wounded bird (“Would you have treated her differently if she were a man?”), using his position to exert undue influence over a susceptible female. With his mug plastered across the press, it’s impossible for Banks to maintain notions of doctor-patient confidentiality. Consequently, his clientele begin deserting in droves, fidgety that the all access coverage might expose the fact that they’re seeing a shrink. Already on financially shaky ground, business seems to be going belly up. For a while it appears as though carefully orchestrated events are conspiring to drive him crazy, or at least make him appear that way to outside eyes. His paranoia over the suspicious escalation in competing airline stock immediately before 9/11, which coincidentally allowed investors to make a killing on the market after United 93 went down, initially sounds like the ravings of a madman. But gradually we SE (60)see his wild conspiracy theories start to make perfect sense. Like a babbling schizo in a padded cell, however, he can’t make anyone else believe his claims, frustrating him and the viewer no end, and increasing his personal sense of persecution. Treated as if he were loco himself, his psychiatrist acquaintances start recommending doctors for him to see. The way things are stacked, Emily might have killed her husband as a misguided means of sabotaging her doctor, depriving him of his license, marriage, practice, mind. The red herring of Allison, that former patient who killed herself after leaving a suicide note that implicated Banks, is purposely dangled to play into these suspicions, make us believe that Emily has materialized as a vengeful wraith from the past to seek elaborate revenge. The collection of unethical and amoral doctors we see are all self-medicating in their own way. “It’s nice to be married to a man who can write your prescriptions.” Banks wife purrs, while he chugs down Red SE (17)Bull as though it were an adrenaline shot straight to the heart. It’s the only thing keeping him hyped up and fully functional during his draining double shifts at the hospital. On the take and in league with the big pharmaceutical companies, these psychiatrists all seem to have a price tag, whoring themselves out to the highest bidder cavalierly throwing their endorsement behind the latest wonder drugs being marketed by drug manufacturers, whether, like Ablixa, they’ve been tested and proven effective or not. What’s worse, when they are tested it’s on gullible patients who have been tricked into serving as glorified guinea pigs. Banks himself smooth talks one of his patients into testing an untried drug by emphasizing the financial benefits to her, since she won’t have to report the prescription to her insurance company, counteracting the high cost of co-pays. Unblinkingly convincing her to sign her rights away, he might be Mephisto inducing Faust to sell his soul. SE (50)Revisiting many of the same sentiments found in his war on drugs campaign Traffic, in Side Effects Soderbergh draws a paper-thin line between pushers on the street and the pill pushers behind the counter. The difference just seems to be a matter of degrees and such themes have never seemed more relevant than in this increasingly medicated day and age. The unspoken connection between one type of drug trafficker and the other is made explicit in the opening scene, when Banks is brought in to counsel that schizo the cops have detained, incorrectly believing him to be doped up rather than suffering from a cultural psychosis. As a time-saving measure, doctors like Banks prescribe drugs as a cure-all, dulling the senses in order to blot out the problem rather than getting to the root cause of it, saving themselves the legwork of engaging in more intensive treatments. While incarcerated herself, awaiting trial, Emily has more drugs pushed at her by the authorities, in order to help her sleep.

SE (12)In a society where the proper prescription is seen as a panacea for anything and everything that’s ailing it, Side Effects also touches, if only glancingly, on the quandary of personal accountability. People blame their actions on medications, or the lack of them, in the same casual way the superstitious of less scientific times would claim the devil made them do it. Following Emily’s arrest, Banks’ wife asks him “Did the person do it? Are they guilty?” to which he honestly responds “In this case, those are two very different things.” In Banks’ view, Emily is a victim of circumstance and biology and her former shrink claims she would be happy just to see Emily enjoy, through her interaction with him, a positive experience with men for once, after being abused by her father and seeing her husband sent up the river. She miscarried their child following Martin’s arrest, and in her strung out, sleepwalking state, still sets their table as if they were a family of three. The postpartum depression seems to be contributing to Emily’s present disorder. Unable to sleep and having lost her SE (18)sex drive, careening into a wall marked ‘Exit’ appeared the only way out of her hopeless situation. She’s unraveling like that hole she picks in the hospital blanket. Later she’ll debate throwing herself in front of the approaching subway like Anna Karenina, in a scene probably ill-advised so close in time to the Keira Knightley adaptation, which co-starred Jude Law. The movie seems to be slanting things to blame poor Martin for all of Emily’s emotional woes, much the same way Emily will later blame everything on Ablixa. The way the film would have it, he’s making her life miserable, so it seems that if she had just up and left him, rather than dutifully trying to help him readjust to life on the outside, everything would have turned out fine. Emily claims she came to New York to study graphic design before she met Martin, implying that her marriage nipped those big dreams in the bud. Her lowly bartender fell into the Cinderella complex and let her high paid Prince Charming sweep her off her feet.

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She tells Banks that being stared at like a painting by a guy in a suit made her nervous, but the indication that he was appraising her, sizing her up like a work of art, a possession to be bought and owned, is the Freudian slip she means to make for his analytic sake. What she fails to point out at the time is that she was no victim. Like those psychiatrists who place their medical titles at the disposal of drug manufacturers for money, Emily willingly placed herself on the auction block at the going rate to the highest bidder. If Martin appraised her like a possession, it’s because she was wearing a price tag.SE (23) Withholding such crucial information allows the director to manipulate us into believing that she subconsciously blames marriage to Martin for the mess her life’s become. With a lunkhead like him in her life, it seems no one could question why the girl is being driven crazy. While he’s getting off on her for instance, she’s staring blankly at the ceiling, and we’re left wondering if she’s supposed to be faking not being aroused (“Girls learn to pretend around the same age boys learn to lie.”), or if he’s just too excited after being locked up for so long to give any thought to sustaining himself for her pleasure. We half expect her to check her wristwatch, the way Jane Fonda did in Klute. Channing Tatum’s Martin is depicted as an unmitigated albatross, despite the fact that he’s never anything other than kind, loving and considerate toward his wife. As she tells the authorities after the fact, his Martin never hit her or threatened her, yet he’s somehow made to seem just as abusive all the same. So much so that it’s actually made to seem in Emily’s psychological favor to rid herself of him. Though she guiltily claims to have killed the wrong person, that she’d trade places with her dead husband if she could, having him walk into her carving knife several times in succession seems like an open and shut case of justifiable homicide. SE (79)Dr. Banks revealingly relates that Einstein figured out relativity in a dream and Paul McCartney wrote whole songs while he was asleep. Similarly, Ablixa, which induces sleepwalking, seems to have freed up Emily’s subconscious, revealing what’s really bothering her in a way this loyal little mouse, who claims to have loved everything about her husband, could never have dealt with in her waking life. As a farewell gesture of goodwill before retirement, Soderbergh, following Haywire and Magic Mike, is still gallantly trying to help Channing Tatum get his acting creds together, billing him fourth behind the illustrious cast of stars, but with the always memorable, eye-catching lead-in ‘and…’  But the film unfairly clouds our own good senses in such a way toward Tatum’s Martin, that even at the end we don’t feel a twinge of guilt over having so badly misjudged him. So it’s hard to see how Soderbergh figured a highly unflattering role like this would further advance the career of the star. SE (80)Not least among the movie’s disconcerting contrivances is presenting Tatum in the dubious guise of some stock broker genius. Believe it or not, he’s been imprisoned for the white-collar crime of insider trading, rather than the sort of vicious strong-arm tactics that would seem more in his line. So it’s something of a surprise to find that the messy crime scene that opens the picture wasn’t his doing. Introducing the innocent party in an orange jump suit at the outset should have been our first clue that Side Effects wasn’t on the up and up, that it meant to mislead, forcing us to watch the director’s tricky sleight of hand more closely. When Emily goes all Glenn Close on Martin, the shock is meant to evoke memories of Psycho, and the early icing of star Channing Tatum elicits the same sort of gasps of shock as Janet Leigh’s shower murder must have done back in the 60’s. Soderburgh similarly jolts the audience by killing off a major star before we’ve steeled ourselves to expect it, displaying a confident hubris in eliminating Tatum so early. SE (6)And in such an unsensationalized, unexpected manner that viewers used to being primed by the normal horror editing rhythms haven’t had time to prepare themselves when it happens. Even though we’ve been given clear indication it’s coming, we still feel taken off guard, as defenseless as the victim. Like a shop-worn fright that gets us every time, it might be the most brilliant thing in the picture. Even if it is entirely derivative, the classics never age. Ads for A & E’s new series Bates Motel, which play as chaser to the feature presentation, seem particularly apt since Soderbergh is indulging his own Hitchcockian homage here. Like Psycho and Vertigo, for instance, Side Effects also shifts character focus mid-stream, from one storyline to another, following a murder. Like the master of suspense, Soderburgh exploits our doubts and paranoia by dropping us into the middle of a disorienting world where nothing is as it seems on the surface, where seemingly ordinary, solid citizens turn out to be insane saboteurs and duplicitous mass murderers.

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Appearances can be deceiving. Here for instance, it’s the frail little dove whose mask of innocence conceals the dark inner truth.  Rooney Mara proves the deceptively dangerous one, as she did in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Following the actress’ breakthrough role in that movie, she seems to be courting typecasting as seemingly demure, vulnerable heroines who carry around an inner reserve of anger and a wild streak a mile wide, no matter how well hidden. The mystery here is compelling, thanks largely to the actress’ spellbinding work. Mara is the main reason one might be tempted to see this movie over again, to pick out the finer subtleties of her performance, which may have been lost on us the first time around due to the deceptive nature of the scenario. DSC_8803.NEFDepending on the facet her character chooses to reveal at the time, she’s juggling several different ‘parts’ here, a one-woman Sybil. Rooney, who has the fawn-like frame of a young Mia Farrow, has been handed one of those consummate roles for an actress, playing a character who is herself playing a part, always ‘acting,’ before Martin and later Dr. Banks and the authorities. She presents herself as an abused waif, with rosy cheeks that make her resemble a Raggedy Ann doll, when she’s actually quite the opposite. To expose her charade, Banks claims to be injecting her with truth serum, when he’s really pumping her full of a placebo, and her cued reactions are like those of an exorcised demon who believes she’s being sprinkled with holy water from a vial of sparkling tap. Like femme fatales in 40’s film noir, the deceptive, seductive Emily uses sex to keep everyone in her web off-balance, distracted, their minds constantly spinning with the heady promise of copulation. Not realizing his previously unresponsive wife is faking her over-enthusiastic reaction to him during sex, Martin declares with self-satisfaction that whoever manufactured her new meds is going to be rich.  

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As far as he’s concerned, Ablixa’s benefits to her are purely as an aphrodisiac.  Emily uses sex like a drug to dull her husband’s senses, keeping him groggy and off-guard. It’s Emily’s reminding him how intense their lovemaking sessions have become that stops Martin from putting further pressure on her doctors to pursue a more homeopathic alternative to the pills. Emily likewise used sexual wiles to manipulate her former shrink, wrapping the repressed Dr. Siebert around her finger by luring her into an affair that’s more about the give and take. Emily taught Siebert what she’d learned from Martin about financial dividends and how to invest wisely. SE (75)Siebert coached her to fake the symptoms and diagnoses required to feign a psychiatric episode. Emily and Siebert are in cahoots to make a killing by driving Ablixa’s competing stock sky-high in the months following fallout from the crime and the attendant press coverage that has given the new drug such a black eye. With Emily being sensationalized in the press as The Pill Killer, Martin’s mother reading a prepared statement on air about the dangers of prescribed drugs and revelations that warning labels on anti-psychotic medications were expanded in 2004 to include young adults, profits couldn’t be at lower ebb. But it seems a rather low rent scheme after all the wheeling and dealing we’d seen going on behind the scenes between multi-million dollar corporate drug manufacturers. We’d been led to believe that the labyrinthine forces arrayed against Banks were much more nefarious and ran far deeper. SE (35)Catherine Zeta-Jones, with horn rims and severe hairstyle, plays Siebert as repressed and just as keyed up as Ingrid Bergman was in Spellbound, which means there’s a volcano beneath the buttoned down façade that just requires the removal of eyewear to set it smoking. Once Siebert’s glasses are gone, her mask is removed, and she can reveal her true self, her becalmed veneer of sanity cracking as she chases Banks down on the street, clobbering him with her purse like your garden variety schizo. Rasping out her lines like a sinewy viper complete with extended s-s-s that make her sound as if she were hissing the alphabet, the actress telegraphs her wickedness from miles away. She seems to be working out some strange variation on her lesbian lech from The Haunting, but she doesn’t take her impossibly written pulp role any more seriously here than she did there. The actress is so self-consciously playing to the stereotype it takes us out of the movie for a minute, until we realize that she’s on to herself and the entire performance is a tongue in cheek put-on for our benefit, much like the picture itself. SE (27a)Siebert is doing with her patient precisely what the ethics board has accused Banks of, and once he gets wise to the fact that he’s been made the fall guy, the milquetoast becomes a man, asserting himself by employing his own mind games to turn the tables, playing one against the other. The second a strong man steps into the picture to sort them out, Emily and Siebert quickly crack and cattily turn on each other. In its heterosexual conceit, Side Effects expects the audience to applaud unlikely he-man Banks’ exposing how weak the bond that ties lesbian lovers (“I always knew you’d turn on me one day.”). For a minute I had the sinking feeling I was watching The Fox (1968) all over again. For two such conniving femmes they seem far too easily taken in by this shrink’s impetuous confidence game. Contrary to appearances, when Banks comes to visit Emily in prison, it’s she who tries to get him to stay longer, knowing if she can prolong his visits it will strengthen the circumstantial case being built that something inappropriate was going on between them. She’s your typically deceptive, cunning, calculating femme fatale, with a dollar sign where her heart should be. When the net begins closing in she’s willing to sacrifice anyone to save her own skin. Emily turns out to be far worse than the husband the movie makes it seem had done her so wrong, not only committing the same white-collar, insider trading crimes that sent Martin up the river, but adding murder and a valiant attempt to railroad the innocent Banks into her bag of tricks.

SE (89)Side Effects opens with a murder mystery, like a film noir, but since there’s never any doubt about anyone else having committed the crime, any more than it leaves any doubt about the railroaded Banks really being guilty of malpractice, the movie’s mystery is redirected into other channels. Soderbergh sifts around trying to find the correct tone for this suspense thriller. At times, Side Effects is a cautionary tale about the dangers of mood-altering antidepressants, a latter-day Bigger than Life, or maybe a more serious Limitless. Since the days of Caligari, cinema has enjoyed an unofficial open season on the art of psychiatry. But despite early indications that it might become a psychological character study of a depressive, a dissection of its main characters’ psyche, Side Effects isn’t an analytical film in the traditional sense, the way such predecessors as SpellboundPressure Point, SE (3)Eqqus or Ordinary People were. There are no emotional catharses here, though when Emily’s confession spills out at the end, it does have the same staged ring as other therapeutic breakthroughs onscreen. Most intriguing of all, Side Effects takes on the veneer of corporate conspiracy thrillers, exposing the wheeling and dealing ‘racket’ behind psychology. As in The Constant Gardener, Soderburgh similarly indicts pharmaceutical manufacturers for exploiting those without resources, the socially vulnerable, poor and desperate, as a convenient supply of available guinea pigs to test out the side effects of new drugs whose effectiveness has yet to been determined. There’s something amiss though when these peripheral issues the film raises seem more intriguing than the ones they’re pushed aside to make way for. The contrived denouement, for instance, seems like child’s play next to the ethical debate that SE (68)has been opened up along the way concerning doctors’ responsibilities and patients’ rights. It’s as if Soderbergh got weak-kneed over such an indictment and pulled away. Instead of pursuing his more logical line of questioning, staying true to the movie’s course, he back pedaled. Ending with the detective mystery behind the opening, Side Effects ultimately settles back into conventional neo-noir. Along the way, however, the movie changes mood so often it might benefit from being prescribed some meds itself just to even things out. Side Effects shifts its tone as easily as the story shifts its focus from Emily to Dr. Banks, allowing viewers to step outside of the drama to take better stock, viewing the patient’s actions through her doctor’s increasingly skeptical eyes. Dr. Banks claims that ‘past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior,’ but it’s he who must break from routine and begin acting unpredictably in order SE (87)to clear his slandered name. This doctor must become a detective, piecing together the puzzle, obsessively picking apart Emily’s alibi and cover stories, discovering she made up the friend at work she claimed recommended Ablixa, stole that evocative line about depression being a visible fog from her boss, who was herself quoting William Styron, and ran her car into the garage wall knowing full well her seat belt would save her, since a car safety commercial plays on a continuous loop in the lobby where she works, as though caught in its own vicious cycle. While Siebert ends up convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and securities fraud, Emily can’t be retried for her part in the crimes due to double jeopardy laws. The rationalist might question how Banks could still be legally appointed Emily’s psychiatrist without notions of conflict of interest coming into play, after her confession proves she was never crazy to begin with. But despite being in the legal clear, the script wants to show that no transgression goes unpunished, that there are negative repercussions, harmful side effects, for her wicked actions as well. SE (86)Emily’s doctor insures that she receives a life term under lock and key for punishment, prescribed drugs that leave her shuffling around like a sleepwalker, with mutilated looks (the meds cause hair loss), experiencing adverse reactions far more severe than the ones she feigned. In essence, Banks ends up doing just what he’d earlier been accused of, committing medical malpractice in order to keep a woman at his mercy, working out a sadistic revenge fantasy worthy of Edgar Allen Poe. Banks holds the keys to Emily’s cell, keeping her drugged up and incapacitated, breaking the Hippocratic Oath by using his knowledge of medicine to destroy her mind and break her spirit. The prescriptions he writes are intended to keep her in check and obedient, much as Rooney Mara’s guardian used access to her bank account to coerce her cooperation in Dragon Tattoo. Playing his own twisted mind games, his character ends up seeming just as warped as all the others. The advice he received from colleagues doesn’t seem completely off the wall. Some intensive professional help couldn’t do him any harm.

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Banks is really in no position to pass judgment on Emily. Like her, once his fortunes suffer a downturn he’s willing to go to any lengths to maintain his affluent lifestyle. “I know what it’s like having your whole life pulled out from under you.” he commiserates. “Only you didn’t do anything. Martin was guilty.” Playing off a theme that speaks directly to these economically depressed times, everyone in the movie seems to be hustling each other in a last ditch attempt to claw their way back to some former state of prosperity, and not adverse to using desperate measures to get there. The economic uncertainties of the time mean that everything is negotiable, even box officeones’ principles and these four people display few scruples in their bids to secure fortunes. Banks states, “Depression is the inability to construct a new future.” Though only Emily is supposed to suffer from this disorder, nearly everyone is brought to a similar state of wrack and ruin by their avaricious attempts to construct futures predicated on money alone. Martin promises to get them back to where they were prior to his arrest, by using the connections he made in the jug. Despite being just released and full of hope about starting over, however, his swift demise robs him of the golden future he spoke of (“He just got out. Now he’s gone.”). The entire film hinges on the house of cards erected by Emily and Siebert, who were attempting to build a future together, with joint offshore accounts in Dubai and the Grand Cayman Islands.  Yet their affair ends in betrayal and mutual incarceration. Of the four leads, only Dr. Banks SE (28)manages to realize the rosy future he envisioned for himself, though even he is forced to resort to underhanded and unethical means to make that dream a reality. Siebert accuses him of trying to clear his name so that he can slip back into his safe, hermetically sealed world of “treating rich, white people.” The close shows him to have succeeded in his objective of keeping his son enrolled in the exclusive private school intended to prepare him for just such a privileged existence. This end apparently justifies the means in his case, simply because his motives are more altruistic. He wants to secure funds more for his family’s sake than his own. Yet he’s willing to go to any extreme to secure this upper crust way of life, same as Emily’s spoiled SE (1)princess was willingly to go to any lengths to reclaim the swank lifestyle she’d been deprived of. As played out from the two leads’ duel perspectives, Side Effects again gives us, in essence, multiple narratives. But Soderbergh’s concentration remains sharply focused here, so the story doesn’t become as sprawling and dispersed as that of say Syriana or Traffic. Making viewers believe that they had been with Emily through all the early trauma, Soderbergh proves his daring as a storyteller by showing us how much one can miss when a director is playing a shell game with his audience. He smoothly pulls the rug out from under us. Like House of Games, the movie remains a confidence scam right up to the very end, and it retains the same irreverent air of getting away with SE (56)something, by swindling the house, that characterized his Ocean films. Side Effects is very much a one-man show, with Soderbergh serving (under pseudonyms) as his own director of photography and editor, and the knowledge that this was to be his grand finale seems to have relaxed the director, freeing him from the oppressive feeling that responsible art should be educational and enriching. Despite its subject matter, Side Effects seems totally free of pontification and as such, as trashily entertaining and mentally undemanding as any of the director’s last few films.  While it’s not as clever as it thinks it is, this movie is a wickedly enjoyable little mind massage. And though one may question Soderbergh’s decision to go out on a flip off this slight, the careers of great directors have been wrapped up on the strength of far less. Though most artists don’t (willingly) choose to hang up their hats until after their best work is far behind them, Soderbergh is shrewd enough to leave them wanting more.

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