Berlin Film Festival review: Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects is a preposterous guilty pleasure

3.00

This Freudian thriller is chock-full of murder, blackmail and illicit lesbian affairs

Steven Soderbergh’s latest feature (screening in competition in Berlin) is a wildly overdetermined Freudian thriller which piles plot twists on top of plot twists, becoming ever more preposterous as it does so.

It is also enjoyable in a guilty pleasure sort of way, throwing in elements - murder, blackmail, illicit lesbian affairs, all washed down with lashings of psychoanalysis – that you’d expect to find in Paul Verhoeven's steamier thrillers. Soderbergh has claimed that Side Effects will be his last feature. If that really is the case and he is in "the twilight of his career," as he told journalists in Berlin today, he is going out on a very camp note.

Soderbergh movies tend to come in two shapes. There are the solemn, self-important ones - Erin Brockovich, Che Parts 1 and 2 – and then there are the playful ones. Side Effects begins as if it is one of the former. Scott Z. Burns’ tricksy screenplay seems to be shaping up an exposé of wrong-doing by the medical establishment and the pharmaceutical companies. Then it veers off in a different direction altogether.

Rooney Mara plays Emily, a 28-year-old woman whose husband (Channing Tatum) has just been released after serving time in prison for insider trading. Emily is seemingly suffering from severe depression. Thanks to her husband’s misdeeds, she has lost her wealth, status and self-confidence. She may even be suicidal. Jude Law is the psychiatrist who looks after her, prescribing her a new, untested drug recommended by her previous psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones.) This, it seems, has some very strange side effects. Those who take it can act at times as if they are sleep walking – and have no recollection of what they’ve done.

Reflecting Emily’s state of mind, the film has a dream-like quality. The wonderfully eerie Thomas Newman score, reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann’s music for Hithcock’s films, adds to the sense of the uncanny. It is easy enough to spot Soderbergh’s influences – Vertigo and Les Diaboliques alongside countless B-movie psychological thrillers and Patricia Highsmith novels.

The acting often tends toward the hammy. Jude Law is in smirking and shifty form as the British psychiatrist who becomes increasingly paranoid himself. He’s no James Stewart but his performance is in keeping with the material. Rooney Mara is effective, too, as the listless and depressed woman who turns out to have hidden depths. Meanwhile, a bespectacled Catherine Zeta-Jones behaves as if she is on leave from a Coen brothers comedy.

At times, the plotting is so tangled that it is hard to work out just what is going on. Characters’ behaviour and motivations are hard to surmise. The shifts in tone are likewise disconcerting. Side Effects flirts with many different genres. It’s at once a medical drama, a courtroom drama, a prison drama and a murder mystery.

Occasionally, it is every bit as irritating as The Informant! the equally slippery comedy thriller that Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns collaborated on in 2009. In the final reel, a film that started in relatively sober fashion has suddenly veered off into the realm of wildly improbable melodrama. However, if audiences stop trying to unravel the very tangled plot and don’t mind have the carpet pulled from under their feet again and again, they should find plenty here to relish.

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links