Soderbergh nicely weaves mystery into ‘Side Effects’

A wordless prologue tells us that a violent act will be committed in Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects,” but as the movie then flashes backward, we don’t know when the act will happen or who is involved.

This is an intriguing, mildly distracting device, especially when the first 45 minutes of the movie unfold with only the vaguest idea of what it’s all going to be about. But you know it’s going somewhere.

A high-finance type (Channing Tatum) is released from prison. His wife (Rooney Mara) greets him but seems depressed, which she is, clinically speaking. Her career-minded psychiatrist (Jude Law) prescribes the latest in pill-based health care.

For a while, we suspect “Side Effects” is going to unroll as some kind of cautionary tale about Big Pharma, and the ease with which society embraces the latest soma-like sedative of the brave new world.

But the script by Scott Z. Burns veers into genre thriller territory, and thankfully so. After seeming to drift (in a cool, well-acted way) for half its running time, the film snaps into gear and goes into clockwork motion. We won’t recount any more plot here, but the prologue is re-visited and blood is spilled.

Oscar-winner Soderbergh, whose career has ranged from anti-commercial projects (like the two-part “Che”) to mainstream entertainment (the “Ocean’s Eleven” pictures), knows how to move a film along, even if his work has a dour streak that feels dominant here.

Soderbergh’s style is almost willfully impersonal; he’s like an artist who would rather be a technician. He tends to back away from big dramatic moments, which might be why he doesn’t quite stick the landing in the final 10 minutes or so.

But “Side Effects” is a clean ride. Soderbergh has given new life to Jude Law, for instance, and he allows Catherine Zeta-Jones (as a rival doctor) to indulge her frosty side.

The small roles are uncannily well cast, and Rooney Mara, lately the title character in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” is terrific. An actress who works in teeny inflections, she understands that the camera is so close you don’t have to emote all over the place to get your point across.

Soderbergh has declared that this will be his final film, as he turns to painting and other pursuits. That’s too bad, even if it’s just a sabbatical: The guy has fine-tuned a certain kind of mainstream movie (lately “Contagion” and “Magic Mike”) and brought it up a notch. We need more of those.

“Side Effects” 3 ½ stars

A clean, well-paced outing by director Steven Soderbergh, which begins like a cautionary tale about Big Pharma and turns into a murder mystery. Psychiatrist Jude Law dispenses pills to a depressed (and excellent ) Rooney Mara, as Channing Tatum looks on.

Rated: R for nudity, violence, language.

Showing: Alderwood 7, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Oak Tree, Pacific Place, Sundance, Woodinville, Cascade.

Talk to us

More in Life

The trick to 1892 East’s crispy French toast is a combination of cornflakes and buttery palmiers, which add great crunch and rich flavor. (Bob Chamberlin/Los Angeles Times/MCT)
Is your bread stale? Don’t throw it away; make this treat

Cornflake French toast might seem a bit of a gimmick, but the added crunch is a marvel.

The Washington State Wine Commission is using August, known for decades as Washington Wine Month, to promote the Drink For WA campaign. The commission estimates it will generate 12 million impressions through advertising and social media channels. (Photo courtesy Washington State Wine Commission)
Washington wine commission rolls out Drink for WA campaign

Share an image of your special occasion along with tags of #DrinkForWA and #EatForWA.

It only takes a small amount of cash to build a homemade swamp cooler to make your home comfortable this summer. (Jennifer Bardsley)
Can a do-it-yourself swamp cooler beat the August heat?

Instead of spending $400 for an air conditioner, purchase $25 of simple parts and assemble one yourself.

Fried green tomatoes stand in fro fresh red tomatoes in this BLT sandwich. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Make a fried green tomato BLT when you can’t wait for ripe

Firmer than red tomatoes, with a zingy, slightly sour taste, unripe tomatoes hold their shape.

Thai Chicken Kabobs with Noodles. (Linda Gassenheimer/TNS)
This super-easy Thai-inspired dish has a slightly spicy edge

Peanut sauce flavors these Thai chicken kabobs with noodles.

Frozen blueberries team up with banana and yogurt to make a refreshing summer smoothie. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Make the most of your fresh-picked blueberries this summer

They can play a starring role in so many recipes, and we’re not just talking dessert- and breakfast-type dishes.

Rich Davis works on finishing the deck of his home in Mukilteo on June 11. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Mukilteo man’s pandemic project: A 500-square-foot deck

Rich Davis had never built anything before, but the shutdown left him with ample time to learn a new skill.

Oslo’s City Hall, with stirring murals and art that depict Norway’s history. (Rick Steves, Rick Steves’ Europe)
Rick Steves on Oslo, the polar opposite of ‘Big Box’ culture

The Norwegian capital city is expensive, but its charm and civility are priceless.

Also known as Rose of Sharon, hibiscus is a hardy shrub is one of the few that blooms in the late summer. (Nicole Phillips)
Hibiscus will bring a tropical look to your August garden

Also known as Rose of Sharon, the hardy shrub is one of the few that blooms in the late summer.

Most Read