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side-effects-filmSteven Soderbergh, the Oscar winning director of “Traffic” and nominee for “Erin Brockovich” is one of the most versatile filmmakers working today. From the art house pleasures of “Che: Parts 1 & 2” to the blockbuster business he did with “Ocean’s 11, 12 & 13” to the introspection of “The Girlfriend Experience,” he’s a master of all genres.

Add to that list “Side Effects,” a new pharmaceutical thriller starring Rooney Mara and Jude Law, which brings the immaculate filmmaking of the above mentioned titles to a potboiler plot that feels like its been sitting on Soderbergh’s to-do list since 1985.

When we first meet Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) it’s just days before her husband (Channing Tatum) is to be released from a four-year-prison stint for insider trading. Their life is about to go back to normal, but it soon becomes clear that Emily is troubled. A suicide attempt brings her to the attention of psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law). She tells him of her lifelong struggle with depression—“a poisonous fog bank that rolls over her mind”—and he prescribes a new drug to help her find equilibrium.

“It doesn’t make you anything you aren’t,” he tells her. “It just makes it easier to be yourself.”

The side effects of the drug, however, include nausea and vomiting, allergic reactions, drowsiness, sleepwalking and criminal behavior. Emily’s erratic conduct while on the drug not only turns her life upside down, but Dr. Banks’s as well.

Saying any more than that would take some of the pleasure away from letting the plot unfold. Besides, detailing the ins-and-outs of the twisty-turny script by Scott Z. Burns would take up the rest of the space I have allotted for this review. You can’t accuse Soderbergh of scrimping on dramatic plot developments, but is it too much?

It all feels very much like the thrillers that used to pack ‘em in at the local bijou in the mid-eighties. Movies like “Jagged Edge” that featured unpredictable plots and elaborate confession montages.

So while it is true that Soderbergh can’t be faulted for not including enough texture in the story, it must also be noted that layers for the sake of layers isn’t always a good thing. The story, which could have been an interesting comment on a broken medical system, or professional misconduct, instead becomes unnecessarily cluttered.

The performances, howevre, are uniformly great. Quick! Somebody buy Mara some Gatorade because she sheds a river of tears—no, make that an ocean—in a performance that is understated but chillingly effective.

Law is terrific as a man whose life is almost torn apart. Luckily he’s left the horrible fake teeth of “Contagion,” his last outing with Soderbergh, at home, replacing them with serious chops playing a man racked with paranoia and anger.

“Side Effects” is a confounding movie because it is beautifully made. Soderbergh strings us along so well in the first hour only to allow the melodrama to win out in the last reel.

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