"Side Effects": Genre-Mixing with Uneven Results

Ostensibly a story of comfortable Manhattanites beset by depression, intervention, and complication, Side Effects operates on several tonal levels. Drawing plot parallels between pharmaceutical opportunism and insider trading, it seems first to lean toward deadpan satire. Then come the shades of retro-thriller noir: mind-games between a well-meaning dupe and a foxy femme fatale. As to the who's who and what's what, that's best revealed by the movie itself, but it may help to know that key players include Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Also, the director is Steven Soderbergh, seeming rather keen on closeups, for creating identification, and on focus pulls, for fogging it up. As camp, this could've been juicier, but of course Mara and Law in particular have a pedigreed intelligence that seems to call for something glassy and genteel — and have we got the director for that. The Soderbergh of Side Effects is at his coolly mercurial best, in that fulfilling middle-ground between experiment and entertainment, where formal playfulness goes very well with great faces. Maybe this movie is really only about the lethal, dreamy beauty of its stars. Soderbergh says he's quitting film after this, but he's made similar threats before. He may just be depressed, or hiding something.

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