Side Effects May Include Smirks, Butts on the Edges of Seats, and Oh No She Didn’t’s!

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, you sly dog, you!

Everyone is Side Effects talks in hushed, measured, careful tones even when angry or sad… or acting. It’s as if Soderbergh had the entire cast tranquilized. Everything about his camera and framing is measured as well. The opening shots (with Thomas Newman’s best score since American Beauty playing on the soundtrack over innocuous credits) echo Hitchcock’s Psycho. We’re in a city…we’re zooming in on a building…a window…slowly we enter a room… there’s blood on the floor…and clues. Shots, tight, not lingering. Not wasting a moment. And then…three months earlier…the title card announces.

After that hint of suspense, Soderbergh tranquillizes the audience. We think we’re watching some topical drama about the dangers of prescription drugs and societal malaise during the Great Recession. Pretty, thin little Emily (a perfectly cast Rooney Mara) looks like a strong wind will blow her away. She suffers from depression, and her husband (a cavalier and charming Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison where he served a short term for insider trading. Emily, struggling to cope, slams her car into a wall and then goes under the watchful care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law, appropriately arrogant but empathetic) who thoughtfully tries to find the right cocktail of medication to get her through her “poisonous fog.” He even takes care to contact her former psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Seibert (a deliciously cold Catherine Zeta-Jones).

Emily’s depression is out in the open as is the style of our Facebook generation, and friends and coworkers rattle off drugs they’ve taken to cope in casual conversation as if talking about the latest fashion trend or hip restaurant. Everyone has something to recommend. The psychiatrists meanwhile are wined and dined by pharmaceutical companies and seduced by big dollars being paid for clinical trials. Dr. Banks and Emily are both seduced by the promises of Ablixa – but there’s a serious side effect: sleep walking. And you know what they say about trying to wake somebody when they’re sleepwalking…

And jab jab jab…Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns rip the rug from under the audience, wake us up, and suddenly we’re in a completely different type of film…the type of film hinted at in the opening shots…the type of film that Hitchcock would make if he were alive today. It’s a great disposable lark of a film on par with two Hitchcockian homages that delighted us in February of 2010 – Polanski’s The Ghost Writer and Scorsese’s Shutter Island. But you want to go into this one cold. I won’t even tell you about what happens during the better two-thirds of the film…the twists…the turns…the knowing smirk that will be brushed across your face as you realize what’s really happening. Your blank slate will be the perfect canvas for Soderbergh’s cold precision painting and waste-not-a-single-moment pacing.

But the greatest twist I hope occurs is outside the context of Side Effects. Soderbergh has told the press recently he’s retiring from film…for awhile…maybe.

But, dude, Stevo, my man…you’re just too damn good at this artsy genre stuff to give up now. Ya dig?

It’s a joke, right?

In the meantime, the side effects of his latest digitally shot movie drug are ones a discerning adult audience should be happy to endure in the cold doldrums of cinema’s bitter winter.

Written by David H. Schleicher


  1. Soderbergh’s been a really prolific guy over the years…could this really be his last film?

    Shall we take a stab at some rankings/groupings?

    My Fave Five from Stevo –

    King of the Hill
    The Limey
    Erin Brockovich
    Side Effects

    Underrated – The Informant!, Haywire

    Overrated – Traffic (but still kinda good)

    Misunderstood – Solaris, The Good German

    I Need to Watch Again – Out of Sight (I recall loving it)

    Can You Believe I Never Watched – sex, lies and videotape (it just seems so…80’s), Kafka, Schizopolis, Underneath, Che (eh)

    I Could Do Without – The Oceans trilogy

  2. Good spin. And thanks for not spilling the beans 🙂

    What’s the matter with Soderbergh. First, it seems he’s obsessed with medical dramas and gives us Contagion followed by Side Effects (is he turning into a more artsy Dr. Robin Cook?); and now he’s talkin’ about retiring. Strange, indeed. Maybe it’s just a side-effect of mid-life crisis 😉

    • Prakash – Soderbergh is a strange dude – he’s always kept so busy and made so many films maybe he’s just tired. I really enjoy MOST of his work – but he’s also made a few films I have zero interest in ever seeing (Magic Mike, The Girlfriend Experience, Bubble, Full Frontal). Maybe retirement just means a slow down…which I think would be good for him. There’s no need to make three movies a year – how about just make one REALLY GOOD FILM every few years. I dunno…we’ll see. The guy’s a wildcard.

  3. I’m definitely looking forward to this, so I also thank you for not spoiling it. I think I’d stop just short of saying Soderbergh’s one of my favorite filmmakers, but he’s definitely interesting. For me, the stretch that started with “Out of Sight” and ended with “Ocean’s Eleven” was his strongest. I’m not familiar too much with his earlier work (I did see “sex, lies, & videotape” years ago and liked it then but haven’t seen it since) and I’ve found his later work to be hit-or-miss. I love “Solaris” and “Contagion”, but “Informant!” really fell flat for me, and I out-and-out hated “The Good German.” I do still want to check out “Haywire.” I hope this isn’t his last movie, since he is an original voice in filmdom, but I’m sure he’ll still produce interesting work no matter the medium he chooses next.

    True story: one of my friends posted this update on Facebook (which I’m writing out from memory): “Hey ladies, I’ve got pizza, a bottle of wine, and both chapters of Soderbergh’s Che Guevara biopic. Line forms to the left. Don’t all barge in at once.”

    • Chris – oh man, I thought The Informant! was a riot and totally unexpectedly good for me.

      Go into Haywire with low expectations and you might like it – the lighting in the hand to hand combat scenes is amazing.

      LMAO @ your friend’s Facebook post.

  4. David I also liked (didn’t love) SIDE EFFECTS, which I saw right before the blizzard struck Friday afternoon. It was the first film by the director I liked in quite some time. Fine acting, Like what you say there about the measured and hushed tones.

    Odd but my absolute favorite Soderbergh film is also your favorite!!!!

    King of the Hill.

    I might also agree with you on THE LIMEY as Number 2.

    Otherwise I like KAFKA and SEX,LIES AND VIDEOTAPE a lot!

    Nice post!

    • Sam – not surprised to find you also love KING OF THE HILL. It was my #14 film for top films of the 1990’s and it’s unlike anything else Soderbergh has ever done. I would argue it ranks just below THE GRAPES OF WRATH as one of the best depictions of The Great Depression ever captured on film. It’s an absolute crime there is no American DVD release – and it just begs for a Criterion edition. Here’s my review of it from some time ago on the IMDb:

  5. […] David Schleicher at The Schleicher Spin has posted a terrific piece of Soderbergh’s “Side Effects”:                                                            … […]

  6. […] David Schleicher at The Schleicher Spin has posted a terrific piece of Soderbergh’s “Side Effects”:                                                            … […]

  7. […] David Schleicher at The Schleicher Spin has posted a terrific piece of Soderbergh’s “Side Effects”:                                                            … […]

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