WALT Disney, one of cinema’s great innovators and visionaries, famously observed that you should never pander to the whims of your audience.
“Always leave them wanting more,” he surmised.
Oscar-winning film-maker Steven Soderbergh does just that with reportedly his final film in the director’s chair.
Having confirmed his retirement from the business that has served him well since he won the coveted Palme d’Or for his 1989 debut Sex, Lies And Videotape, Soderbergh signs off in assured style with a lean psychological thriller about our reliance on prescription medication to smooth every emotional wrinkle.
Side Effects nods and winks with ghoulish glee to the sleights of hand of Hitchcock, engineering a series of surprises to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Screenwriter Scott Z Burns, who penned The Bourne Ultimatum and Contagion, navigates these hairpin plot twists with aplomb, leaving characters’ fates hanging in the balance so we’re never entirely sure if anyone will emerge from the melee unscathed.
Certainly, our nerves are reduced to tatters.
The beleaguered heroine at the centre of Soderbergh’s film is mousey office worker Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara).
She is crippled with anxiety about the impending release of her jailbird husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), who has served four years for insider trading.
“Every afternoon, it’s like this poisonous fog bank rolling in on my mind,” Emily explains to top psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who has been asked to assess her after a failed suicide attempt.
Jonathan prescribes a new medication called Ablixa to calm Emily’s nerves.
Soon after, in a drug-induced haze, the wife commits an unspeakable act and as the media swarms, attention turns to Jonathan’s culpability for supplying the pills that led to an act of unimaginable violence.
“I don’t want to see another pill,” sobs Emily, once she becomes aware of her heinous actions.
Jonathan’s wife Dierdre (Vinessa Banks) and business partners abandon him in his hour of need.
Faced with the prospect of losing his medical licence, Jonathan investigates Ablixa, aided by Emily’s former shrink, Dr Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Side Effects is built on the rock-solid foundations of Burns’s script, which repeatedly pulls the rug from under us just as we begin to think we know what is going on.
Plot strands become deliciously tangled and there’s undeniable pleasure watching the characters try in vain to wriggle free from the complex web of lies.
Law plays his role as a pawn in a deadly game with restraint, while Mara delivers another mesmerising performance after her Oscar nomination for the English-language remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
Zeta-Jones vamps it up a treat in a pivotal supporting role.
Soderbergh’s cool direction oozes style, but crucially, gives nothing away, so every narrative bombshell lands with a gasp-inducing thud.