I can’t imagine a subtler thriller than Steven Soderbergh’s SIDE EFFECTS, if, that is, it is a thriller at all. For one is never quite sure, until the whole thing is over, just what sort of movie it is – if then. It begins ominously, the camera moving in on a window behind which something terrible appears to have happened. Yet that something may have been merely a side effect, awful, but not the stuff of thrillers, not a twist or a turn but the effect of a cause.
If there are plot twists in SIDE EFFECTS they don’t feel that way; when things shift, they just move a little, like a skier avoiding an obstacle, or water sidling around a rock, or a driver taking a detour, or a wrong turn. SIDE EFFECTS is about the depredations of Wall Street, then the struggle of Rooney Mara’s character with depression, then the mendacity of pharmaceutical companies, then her therapist’s descent into paranoid schizophrenia, then the tensions of contemporary marriage, then the professional ethics of that other therapist, then again Mara – it is, and then it isn’t, and then it is again.
Of the greater details of incident and story I will say no more. Jude Law is superb as the ironically troubled therapist, and so is Catherine Zeta-Jones as the enigmatic one, and so is the cast in general, but there is also Mara, who is more than that. Soderbergh’s watery cinematics fit her, paradoxically, like a glove. Thoughts spread across her face as red wine through linen; emotion as dye in water. Her senses pour from her, or drip little by little into a pool of dramatic possibility. And what is that which separates from her as oil from water, and shimmers on the screen like mother-of-pearl?
Everything liquid describes her. She is smooth as cream, aflame as lava, cool as melted ice. She applies a bit of lipstick early on, and it feels unduly fixed on so mercurial a face. Perhaps that tips us off to something, or perhaps it doesn’t. What sort of film is this, anyway? And what sort of actor Mara? There are none in her generation of talent to whose next incarnation I look forward more. Already there is a kind of greatness in her work.
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