Rooney Mara stars as troubled patient Emily Taylor. Her husband Channing Tatum is about to be released from prison for insider trading for which she's delighted, but can't seem to shake the illness she's been plagued with since he was sentenced.
After an unsuccessful suicide attempt she's placed on the care of Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a man whose desperate attempts at curing Emily are thwarted after Ablixa, a drug still in a trial process, hits Emily with a dozen side effects, one of which is sleepwalking. After a fatal encounter under the drug, both worlds are turned upside down as the case effects both sides of the table.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes screenwriter Scott Z. Burns is fresh from the viral thriller Contagion to bring us something slightly paralleled, though it's a challenge in itself to tell you why without giving any plot development or genuine twist away -- no one likes a blabber mouth. What it verifies itself as, however, is that it treads on tradition.
While it defines itself as a classic thriller, Side Effects feels lovingly refreshing. We've not had one with the backbone of this for quite some time, gripping from the moment Rooney Mara hurtles herself towards a wall from the moment the final unveil leaves you exhausted, gripped and somewhat startled.
The battle of wits between Doctor and patient is blurred when truths are told in handfuls, secrets are uncovered within the dozens and progressions are made through character accusations, primarily that of Law's Dr. Banks, a man whose life is taken piece-by-piece as pasts haunt and aid present problems. Blame is placed entirely on him, thus forcing him to uncover the actual truth, leading him to Catherine Zeta-Jones' character, fellow psychiatrist and past Doctor to Emily.
Performances are superior and ultimately believable; Law and Mara are especially profound, though both find themselves on the same route of playing innocence until proven otherwise. A game is easily played, and Soderbergh plays his to the film's advantage. None of his characters are particularly likeable nor show any particular nod to acting sympathetic, thus it plays out all the more fun watching things unveil -- mostly for the unfortunate -- as we eventually, by the third act, have unravelled and slightly let our guard down ourselves.
Prying the secrets open is what thrives us to the final chapter of Soderbergh's Hitchock-inspired thriller, but it's always a help when our curiosity is extended as a brisk pace and an aided social commentary on the general dependance of a pharmaceutical handicap frightens as this clever little noir unfolds and dazzles, even if belief is slightly suspended as it climaxes on hoarse frivolity.
All the right buttons are pushed, so if this is Soderbergh's true farewell, at least it's a good'un.
Verdict: An intellectual, character-driven medical thriller that bows Soderbergh into proposed retirement. Challenging and sustainably gripping with Law and Mara on top form.