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As ever when a new Soderbergh film comes out, I am keen to see it, but not enthusiastic about the prospect. He is one of these “appreciated auteurs” that seek to figure out new forms and styles, new stories and character depictions in every film, and where each of the efforts is worth my time. I needed to check his film list whether there is any single film of his that I really love… and I found some, actually, even though I do not remember them to be “Soderbergh films” in the same way I would remember every single Scorsese film to be unequivocally associated with his name. I loved “Magic Mike” recently, and a longer time ago I think I really liked “Traffic”. And almost all his other directorial works I remember fondly. What the majority of his oeuvre does to me is wrapping itself in a strange veil of oblivion, I remember elements and styles, maybe individual scenes from most, but have my trouble figuring out what they were about.

I think that is to do with me shelving Soderbergh as an experimental film maker, a creator of stylistic slights of hand, trying out this way of telling a story or that, isolating characters’ features and heightening them to see what we all could learn from doing that. An intellectual approach to story-telling, maybe, that is merged with visual means and great skill? Hah… I really don’t know, but all that is found again in “Side Effects”, which is a film featuring big stars (Jude Law, Channing Tatum, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rooney Mara), tells a thriller sort of story (side effects of a drug may be responsible for a murder), and still refuses to be a big-star thriller. It is an intimate, cool and sober chamber play variation on that topic in the same way “Contagion” was a chamber play on the topic of possible global annihilation through pandemia.

I can see Soderbergh’s point (if my assumption is right) that doing yet another thriller-thriller with star-stars on this would be terribly boring, and would only lead to car chases, gun fights, maybe some people getting removed through hit squads and a dramatic ending in a court room. He does not want to see that kind of thing again, but still finds the story compelling. I do too, and I really liked most of “Side Effects” for being humble about its thriller elements and also humble about its stars (not giving all of them the screen time you would expect when reading the poster, for instance…). I am not sure about the ending, having similar troubles than the previously seen “Prisoners” in shying away from going all the way and defying the conventions of its genre, but rather coming back to the audience, hat in hand, and mumbling “yeah ok, here is a bit of a thriller after all”. By no means was the dimension of artistic surrender as dramatic in “Side Effects” as it was in “Prisoners”, where it nearly destroyed all the work of before, but still… the film’s resolution came away a tad too clean for my taste.

For a closer look at the plot:

As always splendid Slate Spoiler Special episode on “Side Effects”:

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