Side Effects ★★★★

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

This review may contain spoilers.

What a treat. Soderbergh games the system while presenting a sly thriller teeming with social commentary. The film vividly captures the tightrope walk of maintaining security in modern life, especially with regards to reputation.

Soderbergh has proven before he can capture the stress of economic undertow powerfully. Here, he also dissects authority and vulnerability—and the vulnerability of an individual given authority over another's well-being. While the concept of "by reason of insanity" figures in the plot, the systemic insanity that we accept as normal IRL is an even more intriguing idea to consider. On the examination table: America's pharmaceutical and insurance industries, stock market, healthcare providers and courts.

My Director Whisperer sensor was going crazy with this film. Partly because it occurred to me that Jude Law's character could be read as serving as a stand-in for Soderbergh—only Hollywood would be the drug industry in question for the latter. But it was more than that; this feels like a very personal film to me. Survival seems to be on Soderbergh's mind, lifting issues from his own life—from surviving "being wrong" to weathering scandal, obsolescence and depression. In that way, Side Effects feels like a very fitting way for him to retire from filmmaking (although I hope he reneges on that).

The plot and script may seem like boiler-plate stuff, but they're merely the backbone here—a prescription, so to speak. OK, OK, there are some silly choices made in the final unraveling of the mystery, but that felt like a small quibble to me considering the whole of the film. Performance-wise, Mara is hypnotic in an oblique, monochromatic way and Jude Law does a masterful job of crumbling bit by bit.

Not only does the direction and editing have an unsettling silkiness to it, early in the film there are a few low-angle shots that create a powerful sense of disorientation. The mood of depression actually cloaks the film in its first hour or so. I felt like I was holding my breath for long sweeps of time. It seems all manner of manipulation is breathtaking in Soderbergh's hands.

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