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Review: ‘Side Effects’ a twisty thriller

  • This film image released by Open Road Films shows Jude Law in a scene from "Side Effects." (AP Photo/Open Road Films)

    This film image released by Open Road Films shows Jude Law in a scene from "Side Effects." (AP Photo/Open Road Films)

  • This film image released by Open Road Films shows Jude Law, left, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a scene from "Side Effects." (AP Photo/Open Road Films)

    This film image released by Open Road Films shows Jude Law, left, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a scene from "Side Effects." (AP Photo/Open Road Films)

  • This film image released by Open Road Films shows Rooney Mara in a scene from "Side Effects." (AP Photo/Open Road Films, Barry Wetcher)

    This film image released by Open Road Films shows Rooney Mara in a scene from "Side Effects." (AP Photo/Open Road Films, Barry Wetcher)

  • This film image released by Open Road Films shows Jude Law in a scene from "Side Effects." (AP Photo/Open Road Films)
  • This film image released by Open Road Films shows Jude Law, left, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a scene from "Side Effects." (AP Photo/Open Road Films)
  • This film image released by Open Road Films shows Rooney Mara in a scene from "Side Effects." (AP Photo/Open Road Films, Barry Wetcher)

If Side Effects is indeed Steven Soderbergh’s final film, as he’s said it will be after toying with the notion of retirement for a couple of years now, then intriguingly it feels like he’s coming full circle in some ways to the film that put him on the map: the trailblazing, 1989 indie sex, lies and videotape.

Both are lurid genre exercises, laid bare. Both focus on the intertwined lives of four central figures, including a scene in which one of the men interviews one of the women on video, hoping to unearth a hidden truth. Both movies are about danger, secrets and manipulation, filled with characters who aren’t what they initially seem, all of which Soderbergh depicts with his typically cool detachment.

Twists and double crosses occur and schemes are revealed as layer upon layer of Scott Z. Burns’s clever script gets peeled away; it’s actually going to be difficult to discuss Side Effects without giving too much away. Yet Soderbergh approaches such dramatic events with the same chilly tone that has marked so much of his work.

Just as matter-of-fact is the way the characters rattle off the names of the prescription drugs they’re on and discuss which ones work better than others, from Wellbutrin to Zoloft to the fictitious Ablixa. In an accurate reflection of our impatient times, everyone in Side Effects wants the quick fix: for their finances, careers, reputations, sex lives and, most fundamentally, their moods. Fittingly in this New York-set thriller, Soderbergh has shot and edited the film (under his usual pseudonyms of Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard) crisply and efficiently, with occasionally hazy backlighting – one of his signatures – suggesting a dreamlike mental state.

He puts us on edge from the start, through Hitchcockian visual choices, with clues that a bloodbath has occurred in a Manhattan apartment. Flashing back three months earlier, we see that pretty, twentysomething Emily (Rooney Mara) has pulled up to a prison to visit her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum, in his third Soderbergh film following last year’s Haywire and Magic Mike). He’s at the end of a four-year sentence for insider trading.

Once he’s released, though, Emily isn’t nearly as happy as one would expect her to be, and she actually falls into a deep and suicidal depression. When she goes to see psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), he prescribes her a new drug called Ablixa, which he’s testing out on a few patients as part of a lucrative deal with a pharmaceutical giant. Then this pill starts showing some disturbing side effects and . . . well that’s really all we can say.

Here’s hoping this isn’t a true retirement for Soderbergh – and more like one of those Jay-Z or Michael Jordan retirements – at least so he can add Mara to his band of A-list regulars.

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