Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh has been talking about retirement for years now, and aside from his HBO movie about Liberace coming up, this might actually be his swan song. As far as I am concerned, he chose an absolutely fantastic film to call it quits with.
The acting in the movie is terrific on almost all accounts. Jude Law gives one of the best and most believable performances of his career. Rooney Mara is a future star, and she is able to shed the predetermined Lisbeth Salander persona almost immediately. Channing Tatum continues to impress and cause several critics/moviegoers to eat some serious crow. Catherine Zeta-Jones seems more committed to this role than she has in the 11 years since her Oscar nom. It is always great to see David Costabile. He can be a great movie character actor if he continues to kill it in shows like Breaking Bad and Suits. Soderbergh has always pulled such unexpected things out of his actors, and this movie is really no different.
The movie hits a point about 45 minutes in that will cause the audience’s collective jaw to be on the floor and will not regain its proper position until the credits begin rolling. The screenplay is filled with cool twists (it could be argued that it has one too many), and each one of them is not telegraphed in any way. I could not get on top of the movie. It changes tones and styles on several occasions, only adding to the intrigue that the audience is swept up in. It keeps us guessing and turns into a kind of movie that we didn’t really think we were signing up for to begin with. It is a fascinating script, and it is a shame if we really aren’t going to be able to see another collab between Burns and Soderbergh.
Side Effects is definitely rooted in Hitchcock movies. There are a few moments in particular when even the subtle Thomas Newman score will sound like one of Hitch’s thrillers, but it becomes more and more apparent that this is the type of movie that Hitchcock would have made if he were working in today’s industry. So many movies try to be Hitchcock, but this movie is Hitchcockian at its very core: in its attention to detail, its quiet atmospheric intensity, and in its character arcs. There is always something a bit sinister going on, and at a certain point, you honestly have no idea what anyone will say or do next. Oh, and Jude Law would have been a perfect Hitchcock leading man. I never thought I would ever come up with a serious compliment about the actor, but his work here may have actually changed my opinion about him.
To me, it has always seemed like Soderbergh just does not give a damn what anyone thinks of him. His retirement to be a painter has certainly raised eyebrows and been the subject of a joke or two. Ocean’ Eleven seems like the last thing the filmmaker who brought us Sex, Lies, and Videotape would have taken on, let alone giving it two sequels. He throws a random no-budget wrench into his filmography every once in a while starring a pornstar, a former American Gladiator, and/or non-actors. It is almost like he has been bored for years, which is reinforced by The Informant!, which almost seems like a middle finger to conventional filmmaking. The fact that he is finishing up his career with a male stripper movie and a seemingly straightforward thriller is just about the only way I could have seen his astonishingly up-and-down 25 year career to conclude. He hit his critical peak with Out of Sight. He hit his awards peak with his best film Traffic. He hit his commercial peak with Ocean’s. He hit his quirkiness peak with Bubble. The man’s résumé is varied and commendable. I will never forget the feeling thay some of his movies left me with. Side Effects is one of those movies. It gets under your skin, and while there, it fills you with all the euphoria of a good drug. My diagnosis: see the movie immediately.
Rating: 3.5 stars