Plagued by writer's block, Eddie (Cooper) has become a scruffy loser, which prompts high-flying girlfriend Lindy (Cornish) to dump him. Then his drug-dealing ex-brother-in-law (Whitworth) offers him a clear pill called NZT that lets him access all of his brain. Suddenly, words flow freely and his mind races ahead, learning languages (the better for bedding beautiful women) and working the stock market. But his moneymaking schemes put him in league with both a nasty Russian loanshark (Howard) and a fat-cat businessman (De Niro), just as NZT's dark side-effects kick in.
Based on Alan Glynn's novel The Dark Fields, the role fits Cooper as it if were written for him. He effortlessly transitions from slovenly slacker to handsome devil while sustaining a believable character who's both likeable and a bit scary. Eddie is a bundle of quick wit and murky shadows, and Cooper convinces us with the lightning dialog, seductive charisma and grim emotions. It's a meaty performance that's a lot deeper than the haircuts that symbolise each stage in Eddie's transformation.
He even holds his own alongside De Niro, Cornish and Friel (as Eddie's ex-wife), all of whom are terrific and underused. And we also have fun watching Howard's character shift through the film, although he seems to only exist to provide a sense of menace and brutality and crank up the suspense. It's thoroughly enjoyable to watch these people deal with an extraordinary series of events, and even when things start to turn nasty, our interest continues to be piqued by the possibilities.
All of this goes a long way in papering over the plot's wobbly foundations (just how does someone get a book contract without writing a single word?) so that we can enjoy the ride. Burger assembles all of the elements with an exhilarating visual style, using clever settings and whizzy effects work to keep our synapses snapping along with Eddie's. So it's mildly disappointing that Eddie uses his powers merely to make a lot of money.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Friday 18th March 2011
Box Office USA: $79.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $155.4M
Distributed by: Relativity Media
Production compaines: Relativity Media, Virgin Produced, Many Rivers Productions, Boy of the Year, Intermedia, Rogue Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 70%
Fresh: 131 Rotten: 56
IMDB: 7.4 / 10
Director: Neil Burger
Screenwriter: Leslie Dixon
Starring: Bradley Cooper as Eddie Morra, Robert De Niro as Carl Van Loon, Abbie Cornish as Lindy, Andrew Howard as Gennady, Anna Friel as Melissa, Johnny Whitworth as Vernon, Robert John Burke as Pierce, Darren Goldstein as Kevin Doyle, Tomas Arana as Man in Tan Coat, Ned Eisenberg as Morris Brandt, T.V. Carpio as Valerie, Richard Bekins as Hank Atwood, Patricia Kalember as Mrs. Atwood, Cindy Katz as Marla Sutton, Brian Anthony Wilson as Detective