In what may be Steven Soderbergh’s last “film” (his retirement has been greatly exaggerated, he’s suggested he may focus more on television after a break, and he already made Behind the Candelabra for HBO), Side Effects is very much a perfect note for him to go out on. It’s well shot and put together, it’s got a great cast (including Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones), it’s stylish, and it’s slightly less than meets the eye. Our review of Side Effects on Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Emily Taylor (Mara) is depressed. Her husband Martin (Tatum) just got out of jail, which is good, but they have to start their lives over, and so she drives her car into a wall. She’s taken to a hospital where her shrink is Dr. Jonathan Banks (Law). Emily’s had bouts with depression before, and previously worked with Dr. Victoria Siebert (Zeta-Jones), who Emily met with when her husband first went to jail. To help get Emily better, Banks prescribes her some anti-depression pills, but — as anyone who’s tried these drugs knows — there are side effects. The first drug helps a little, but she doesn’t want to have sex and it’s not enough. But the next drug she tries? Much better, until it becomes much worse.
If you haven’t seen the film, this is the point where the movie starts taking twist and turns that will probably be unexpected, so to reveal any more would be unfair. And the advertising campaign and much of the internet should be congratulated for keeping much of the film’s surprises under wraps. But once the film reveals where it’s going it gets interesting for a bit, but then becomes about checking off the plot points. There is someone at the center of a conspiracy who is wronged, but the film doesn’t make that person all that culpable, so the conclusion never feels in question. There are good moments throughout, but – other than the film’s ability to keep its mysteries under wraps – this doesn’t give good Hitchcock or (for that matter) good Brian De Palma.
Ultimately, this speaks to Steven Soderbergh’s weakness as a filmmaker. He’s been on a good run lately, and Contagion, Magic Mike and Behind the Candelabra are some of his best films, but the speed to which he makes movies means that usually his films are good enough. Where something like Out of Sight was material he knew how to handle, and Schizopolis was born out of something real, here he’s doing a craftsman job, and he does it well, but it’s mostly clever, and not much more than that.
The Blu-ray comes with a DVD and digital copy, and the film is presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. The film was shot digitally, and this looks like a straight port. It’s excellent. Extras, however, a very limited. There’s a fake “Behind the Scenes” (3 min.) thing that seems to have been made by Soderbergh (ever the prankster), a fake website for the drug Ablixa, a commercial for the fake drug Ablixa (1 min.) and a commercial for the fake drug Intenin (1 min.).