Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Side Effects


Stephen Soderbergh has said he will retire, or at least take a hiatus, from movie directing. If so, this and Behind the Candelabra, which he did for HBO and I haven’t seen yet, could be his final films. And if he sticks to it, the world will have lost one of its best directors. Aside from the very successful commercial Oceans films, his movies have seldom scored really, really big, but he is one of those guys who is willing to take chances and do the odd project here and there. I have really enjoyed films like Haywire, Contagion, and The Informant!, and for that matter, I liked the Oceans films, too.

This is another winner. I really love it when a movie leads me down the garden path, makes me think it’s about one thing and it turns out to be about something else entirely. This one is very much in the style of Hitchcock, but you don’t realize it at first. It seems to be about Big Pharma, and how they can play fast and loose when it comes to testing and especially promoting a new miracle drug. (All those drug commercials you see on TV? If it contains the words “Ask your doctor if [this drug] is right for you,” you’re being had.) Jude Law is a psychiatrist who is being paid $50,000 to be in a study of a new drug that is supposed to be for depression. One of the side effects (and if the list of side effects in those TV commercials doesn’t put you way, way off the whole idea of drugs, you deserve whatever side effects you experience) is sleepwalking. Rooney Mara is one of his patients, and he prescribes it. And she stabs and kills her husband while in a somnambulistic state. It becomes a sensational case. Can she be legally responsible, or is the drug at fault? Jude’s life begins to fall apart.

That’s what you think is happening. The real meat of the story is something else entirely, and it’s ingenious and, though certainly wildly unlikely, I wouldn’t say it is impossible. And that’s really all I can say without giving too much away. I hope I haven’t given away too much already. The resolution is deeply, and to me, even hilariously satisfying. But I can have a very black sense of humor.