And so to Steven Soderbergh’s (apparently) valedictory movie, a New-York-set Hitchcockian thriller with starring Jude Law as a smooth-talking, med-dispensing psychiatrist and Rooney Mara as his depressive, somnambulant patient.
Any description of plot beyond this leads to problems – this is twisty-turny tale that really can’t be talked about. As with Psycho (a reference point throughout Side Effects), nobody, but nobody should be admitted to the auditorium after the film has begun – and even amateur critics would be churlish to reveal any of the secrets within.
So what can we say? Well, it’s testament to Soderbergh’s protean talents that the film looks dynamic and just rather fabulous all round. Jude Law does perfectly well, as do co-stars Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Rooney Mara is a step up again, her catatonic vulnerability here is a very clever performance indeed.
It’s an entertainment, no doubt about that, with nothing really substantial to add to the big pharma debates. But when the film slips into full-blown thriller, it’s hitting fifth gear, and is a lot of fun.
Of a piece with Side Effects is Danny Boyle’s Trance, another visually arresting (and similarly ochre-paletted) twisty thriller, this time set in London and with a hypnotist in place of a psychiatrist. Ostensibly an art-heist movie, Boyle starts us off on some Ocean’s Eleven caper fun, with James McAvoy as a spendthrift inside man for gangster Vincent Cassell at a swanky London auctioneers; the film soon veers wildly off-track when a bump on the head brings about amnesia (yes, amnesia) and McAvoy forgets where he hid the maguffin (a Goya painting). Cassell and his gangster pals engage an eminent hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) to delve into McAvoy’s subconscious to find the hidden painting, and inevitably much more besides.
It’s unashamedly exploitative, though much dafter than I think Danny Boyle intended it to be. Rosario Dawson is ‘brave’ (read: naked) but really nobody is being genuinely challenging or challenged. London looks great and grim – a nice audiovisual counterbalance to his ‘Green & Pleasant Land Olympic opening ceremony, produced more or contemporaneously – and as you’d expect from Danny Boyle, it sounds good too.
But ultimately it’s slight and silly – and beyond the trademark Boyleian audiovisual whizzbangery, the story doesn’t really hang together. A lot of the film is mysterious and dreamlike, but it’s a far cry from, say, Mulholland Drive in its evocation of genuine dream-place. As with Side Effects, it’s not a plot that a spoiler-free review can elaborate on; suffice to say here that it gets very, very daft indeed. If you’ve seen it, I’ll just say ‘electric razor’ and you’ll know the sort of thing I’m getting at. Also, the climax has more holes than Blackburn, Lancashire and a very end nod to Inception just underlines how weak the plotting is in comparison with its would-be peers.