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Originally published February 7, 2013 at 12:05 AM | Page modified February 7, 2013 at 2:24 PM

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‘Side Effects’: Slick thriller surprises from beginning to end

Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Side Effects,’ imbued with a sleek elegance, surprises from beginning to end.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

“Side Effects,” with Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, from a screenplay by Scott Z. Burns. 106 minutes. Rated R for sexuality, nudity, violence and language. Several theaters.

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The less you know in advance about Steven Soderbergh’s slick thriller “Side Effects,” the more you’ll enjoy it — so be forewarned. It has a terrific beginning: a sleek but colorless Manhattan apartment, with a splash of crimson blood on the floor, an overturned chair, signs of a struggle. What happened? We’ll have to wait; the screen goes black, and we see the words “Three months earlier.”

Beyond that, I’ll do no more than introduce the characters: Emily (Rooney Mara), a waiflike young woman, visits her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), in jail — he’s serving time for insider trading — and awaits his return home but struggles with a depression that descends on her like, she says, “a poisonous fog.” A psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), tries to help, prescribing a new drug that “just makes it easier to be who you are.” Things do not, to put it mildly, turn out well.

Shot by Soderbergh himself (under his cinematographer alias Peter Andrews) with a cool gray elegance, “Side Effects” goes to unexpected places, and we breathlessly follow along. Though there are elements that seem familiar — Catherine Zeta-Jones’ sexily purring shrink seems like someone we’ve met on screen before — the movie surprises from beginning to end. And one of its biggest pleasures is the performance of Mara, in a role that’s many miles from the steely Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” The fragile Emily seems like she might blow away in a strong breeze, speaking in a scratchy little voice and demonstrating a chameleonlike ability to look different in every wash of light. Late in the film, she lets out a sudden laugh, and you just might jump in your chair. Watch closely; this is a star in the making.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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