By Alex Dymoke
SCREENWRITER SCOTT Z Burns must have had lots of fun thinking up scary-sounding fictional drugs for this Big Pharma neo-noir thriller. Delatrex, ablixa, perxil, forozine, zersop – all make an appearance in the heavily medicated world of Side Effects.
Everyone is on something. Pills are passed between women in work-place toilets (“What’s the matter? Here, try this”) and at stiff black tie soirees they are surreptitiously gulped down with mouthfuls of champagne. For the social elites of Manhattan, unhappiness is not an option.
For his latest – and if he is to be believed, last – film, Steven Soderbergh skillfully orchestrates a complex tangle of concealed bad intentions. No one can be trusted, least of all psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). Banks’ surgery, situated near the top of a gleaming Manhattan skyscraper, feels more like a corporate office than a place you go to get your antibiotics. What’s more, he seems to be in the pocket of a shady pharmaceuticals company. When he prescribes a vulnerable new patient (Rooney Mara) a new drug, her psychological good health is far from his primary motivation.
The plot is satisfyingly twisty, but Soderbergh is let down by a sub-par turn from Jude Law and a predictably awful one from Catherine Zeta Jones. Law doesn’t have to try too hard to play sickly smooth, cruelly handsome characters like Banks, but his performance feels half-hearted. Zeta Jones goes too far in the other direction, really hamming it up as sexy therapist Dr Victoria Siebert. Mara, however, excels as the creepily vacant, suicidal patient, Emily Taylor.
At just over an hour and a half, Side Effects is slight and tight. It’s a reasonably effective psychological thriller. However, it doesn’t have the monumental feel of a full stop. A low key end to a sparkling career for Soderbergh.