I have been a big Steven Soderbergh fan since his first film Sex, Lies and Videotape which radiated a voyeuristically erotic undertone; many of the film’s images are still lingering in my mind’s eye after all these years. I have also been in awe of Soderbergh’s directorial breadth and the fact that he could not be pigeonholed – his work dealt with themes ranging from a charming, prankish crime caper with Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney entitled Out of Sight, to “brat-pack-like grifter boys” in Ocean’s 11 to the recent Contagion which was a lesson in how the Center for Disease Control deals with a pandemic and how it is tracked globally. And I will never forget my all-time favorite Soderbergh film, Traffic – a beautifully structured, ambitious cinematic “masterpiece” set in different locales, but eventually giving us a wrenching 360 degree view of the drug trade including buyers, sellers, law enforcement officers, and most importantly the customers/users.
Side Effects, his latest effort is a twisty, light-weight production; a strange schizophrenic film which on the one hand begins as an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry’s rampant use of medications for psychiatric disorders, and then morphs into a disappointedly predictable crime thriller. I figured out the angle pretty early on. The story revolves around a young depressed married woman (intensely acted by Rooney Mara) who is prescribed a new drug by her psychiatrist (Jude Law) after a suicide attempt, and the resulting side effects of that drug which unravels the young woman and the film itself.
This is a movie about lying, cheating, and deception so perhaps this ricochets full circle back to Soderbergh’s first film, but regrettably without the freshness and visual excitement that the original offered. The rumor is that Soderbergh is going to retire from film-making to become a visual artist. Maybe it is time for him to take a breather and hopefully come back to the magnitude and scope of his most profound works.