Judging solely by his last two projects, the tone-deaf actioner Haywire and the charming, formless Magic Mike, it'd be fair to assume a Steven Soderbergh thriller centered on trendy antidepressants might spill out messier than a capless Zoloft bottle fumbled in the dark. But it's the classical, sleuthy structure of Side Effects and the fact that Big Pharma finger-wagging is minimized in favor of psychological malice that bolster its old-school, who's-conning-whom value.
It works out well that a movie so calculated in its discussion of consequences begins in a place built for them: prison. Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), possessing all the confidence of a wounded bird, timidly awaits the release of her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), who was locked up for insider trading. Transitioning back to civilian life is hard for Martin, but things seem infinitely tougher for his wife, who can’t shake the cloud of anxiety fogging up their marriage. Admitted to the ER after ramming her car into a parking-garage wall, Emily meets Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who asks all the right questions about her purported suicide attempt. Agreeing to discharge his new patient if she begins scheduling therapy sessions with him, Banks jumps at the chance to participate in a handsomely paid trial for Ablixa, a flashy new drug he prescribes Emily after standard meds don’t work: "It makes it easier to be who you are." But what if you're a murderer?
Soderbergh slips in far too many twists and surprises to discuss without major spoilage, so just know that Scott Z. Burns' script becomes more unpredictable as it broadens. Law’s scrappy street smarts invoke Hitchcock's strongest Grant and Stewart roles, and this dogged likeability helps his face-offs with Emily and her chilly former care provider (Catherine Zeta-Jones) catch fire. The circumstances turn muddy and implausible by the end, but getting there's a damn good time.