Crime thriller "Side Effects" is director Steven Soderbergh's umpty-umpth mid-budget film for the right side of the bell curve. Back in 2011, he made "Contagion," also from a script by Scott Z. Burns, and also with Jude Law as a shifty-looking health adviser.
"Contagion" petered out about half-way through, as if Burns and Soderbergh had lost interest and turned to their next medical movie project together: "Side Effects," which gathers momentum as it goes on.
The new film starts out as a seeming attack on the modern pharmaceutical industry, with Law as a psychiatrist who casually prescribes a new antidepressant ("Ablixa") for suicidal wife Rooney Mara, with seemingly disastrous consequences. The first half of "Side Effects" is intelligent, but not particularly engaging. The notion that a medicine can change your mood and behavior seems oddly defeating to the expert (but perhaps overly fast-working) filmmakers.
But, then "Side Effects" turns into an old-fashioned murder-for-money mystery. Instead of just being zombies under the control of their pills, the characters actually have total Free Will, which turns out to be more interesting.
After many feints and twists, the bottom line message of both "Contagion" and "Side Effects" eventually works out to be "Trust Your Medical Establishment, They're Here to Help." I might be wrong about this, but I don't think movies have anywhere near as much populist paranoia as they did back in the 1970s.
The 50-year-old Soderbergh claims to be retiring, which is sad because he's a clever, extremely productive moviemaker. But, having seen "Side Effects," I'd hardly be surprised if, to get through his huge work load, he's been taking a lot of pills. So he's likely the best judge of what his body and brain now need for his health.
Scott Z. Burns is not retiring. He's credited with helping out on the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. The 2011 Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with a terrific screenplay by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver that dismantles the liberal environmentalist pieties of Ronald Reagan's Bedtime for Bonzo, was dumped into August 2011, but still made a lot of money. This sequel has been given the blockbuster release date of May 23, 2014.