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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future