Steven Soderbergh spent a long time telling the world that his ultra-tricky and slippery psycho-thriller “Side Effects” is the last film he’ll ever direct. He plans to concentrate on painting. Or, as he told the New York Times, the last film for commercial display, anyway.
Not the last we’ll see, of course. In May, HBO will show his Liberace biography with Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. But these two films, he says, are the last from one of the most gifted commercial filmmakers we have.
Don’t believe it. No director good and cunning enough to make a film as fine and clever as “Side Effects” could then disappear behind a paint brush. Or a museum sensibility.
Nervous energy has been virtually the whole point of Steven Soderbergh, from the very beginning. His defiant careening from style to style, film to film, has been a kind of merry game played on everyone who would try to pigeonhole him for as much as two films in a row.
So you think he’s just a populist so smart that he connects with the multiplex throngs in films like “Erin Brockovich,” “Magic Mike” and the “Oceans 11” remakes? OK, then, what about the wildman /experimentalist who gave the world “Schizopolis” and “Full Frontal?” And, what on earth does that have to do with the journalist in filmmaker’s clothing who made “Traffic” and the epic two parts of “Che?” And while you’re at it, how do you fit “Kafka” and his remake of Andre Tarkovsky’s version of Stanislaw Lem’s novel “Solaris” into all of that?
This is a filmmaker whose energy is so extreme that he usually can’t resist putting the camera on his shoulder and functioning as his own cinematographer.
I interviewed Soderbergh once on the phone, and even that was affected by his nervous energy.
After about 10 minutes of high-level chatter about the film he’d made, we got distracted for 10 more minutes by our mutual high-regard for one of the poet laureates of nervous energy in movies, Richard Lester (“A Hard Day’s Night,” “The Knack”), especially that Lester film almost no one else seemed to like, “Cuba.”
So great is that energy in “Side Effects” that the film transforms itself in front of you every half hour – from a drama about a depressed woman who greets her husband after he’s released from prison for insider trading, into a fictional slam at the malevolences of Big Pharma and the psychotropic drug business, and then becomes the tale of a psychiatrist obsessed with finding all the vermin infesting his life and settling every score.
Jude Law plays the psychiatrist, a superbly rational man who, at first, has no idea what in heaven’s name he is getting into. Rooney Mara – so good in the American version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” – plays the woman who takes the wrong antidepressant.
The drug is fictionally named Ablixa, and has the “side effect” of her sleepwalking and doing the unthinkable. Channing Tatum plays her ex-con husband. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays her old psychiatrist, a woman with an appalling amount of sangfroid just waiting for a nifty plot turn. Of which there are many.
Take a look at the masterful editing and cinematography of every scene here – the way nothing is five seconds too long, every camera shot is from an interesting place and every camera movement is pure grace.
No way a movie this good is a 50-year-old film master’s swan song. No bleeding way.