Side Effects ★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

Soderbergh is as Soderbergh does, and his putative farewell performance at the helm of a studio feature film is the usual tasteful Soderbergh fare, finely directed, with a slightly jazzy achronology to it and its almost pastel color schemes smelling lightly of perfume. For all that, the Manhattan doctor-and-patient tale that unspools here feels overly familiar, but Side Effects makes a case for its existence early on by slyly painting itself as a satire on pharmacological culture. Emily (Rooney Mara), you see, is depressed — like, suicidally depressed — and falls into the psychiatric care of Jonathan (Jude Law), an overworked shrink who may be preoccupied by his mad scramble into the arms of Big Pharma. I briefly imagined a Cronenberg-style happy-pill-fueled excursion to the boundaries of human behavior, but Side Effects turns out to be more in the vein of early-90s erotic thrillers. (Except tasteful — but for some language and a brief gratuitous nude scene, probably a body double at any rate, this would be a comfy PG-13.) Plotwise, you'll be way out ahead of this one if you pause for even a moment to wonder why anyone would cast a dynamo like Mara in such a mousy, ineffectual role. The eventual twists and turns are gratifying, in a small way, though Law's character is never quite likable enough to command my emotional investment in his psychic well-being, let alone the enduring comeuppance he delivers. The film pivots on girls against boys, and when Law turns the tables to run roughshod over the women who played him for a fool, he does so with a startling and enduring vindictiveness that I found more disturbing than the film seemed to acknowledge. And my main beef with Soderbergh is that, sometimes, low-key is overrated. This should have been made 20 years ago, and it should have been directed by Fincher, Verhoeven, or De Palma, any of whom might have been inspired by the script's flagrant contrivances to develop a happily lurid approach.