Steven Soderbergh‘s Side Effects opened last Friday in the States courtesy of Open Road and starts its international rollout with tonight’s Berlin competition screening. The director, Rooney Mara, Jude Law and scripter Scott Z. Burns are all in town for support. Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones also star in the film about a successful New York couple (Mara and Tatum) whose world unravels when she begins taking a new drug prescribed by her psychiatrist (Law). It’s a thriller in the Hitchcockian sense that employs plot-twists and surprises set against the background of intersecting themes of psychology, psychopharmacology and the law.
This is Soderbergh’s fifth appearance in Berlin, “More than any other festival I’ve ever been to,” he said at a press conference this afternoon. It will also be his last for a while. The director is famously headed for an early retirement – or as he called it today, “a break” – after this film. (Although he still has his Liberace biopic Behind The Candelabra to air on HBO.) Asked why he chose to go the potboiler route before bowing out he said, “I just liked the idea of making a thriller as I near the twilight of my career.” He added that he’d been inspired by making Ché back in 2008. “However long this break ends up being, I wanted the last few things I was doing to be fun to make and to watch. Coming out the other end of Ché really made me want to have more fun.”
In an atypical move, Side Effects changes focus about mid-way through. It starts off centered on Mara’s Emily and then shifts to Law’s Dr. Banks. Burns said his goal was to “subvert every expectation that the convention would have and turn everything upside down.” Praised for his turn as the psychiatrist who goes through a series of transformations, Law lamented, “Sadly, it’s quite rare that you get to be a kind of lean character; intelligent, complicated, mature and straight to the point.”
Meanwhile, if Soderbergh starts his break right away, he can rely on Burns as a stand-in. The two men bear a certain resemblance and outside today, Burns was mistaken for the director and asked to sign Soderbergh’s autograph. “So, that’s already happening,” deadpanned Soderbergh.