Like The Social Network, this movie opens with a guy whose girlfriend is breaking up with him. Instead of a computer hacker, this time it's a writer suffering from writer's block. The movie's first scene isn't exactly this, but director Neil Burger felt the need to start on something seemingly more exciting. Burger doesn't trust as David Fincher did that a scene of two people sitting in a diner breaking up with each other can be exciting.
Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie who runs into his ex-brother-in-law who is also a drug dealer. His brother-in-law sees that Eddie is in a funk, so he gives Eddie an experimental pill called NZT, which enhances the brain, super-charges it essentially. For Cooper, instead of looking dreary, lethargic, unkempt and sluggish in speech, he speaks with more confidence, which means faster narration. In fact, on the pill, everything he does is faster.
For Burger, he visually makes things quicker. His first shot is actually the camera zipping up a skyscraper like a super elevator. A little later, Burger's camera is zipping through New York City at night almost as if the camera is attached to a bullet fired from a machine gun, and when I see through NYC, I mean literally through things like cars, taxis, people, etc. Burger makes Cooper faster not like hitting fast forward on the DVR, but through super-imposing multiple images in the same frame.
Those zipping and multiple images is initially striking, but a more obvious trick Burger uses are the colors and cadences. When Eddie is just himself, Burger has the frame filled with hushed or muted sights and sounds. When Eddie is on NZT, all the colors and noises intensify whether it's the luminance and hue or it's the volume and pitch. It's supposed to signify Eddie's mind intensifying, his senses increasing, and minute details becoming more accessible and vivid.
This is of course not the first time a movie or TV show has been done about a man getting a super brain. John Travolta starred in Phenomenon (1996) and child actor Jimmy Bennett co-stars in ABC's No Ordinary Family. But, unlike those examples, Eddie doesn't use his super brain to cure diseases or make inventions that can help people. He uses his super brain selfishly to make money.
Yet, for someone who has a super brain, screenwriter Leslie Dixon, adapting from Alan Glynn's book "The Dark Fields," has Eddie make some stupid mistakes. The major mistake is Eddie involving himself with a Russian mobster. I suppose the point is the pill doesn't make a person more enlightened or wise. It merely heightens or amplifies what's already there. For Eddie, greed, impatience, and arrogance are heightened.
Again, for a movie about a guy who becomes super smart, the script and story here leaves a lot unexplained. Abbie Cornish, the girl who looks like Nicole Kidman, plays Lindy. Lindy re-appears in this film and hooks up with Eddie. Lindy falling back with him isn't exactly explained. Eddie makes a bit of money. He gets a haircut, but no real cause for her return to him.
A glaring plot hole, unless I seriously missed something, is a murder that's left unsolved. A woman who looks like Darryl Hannah is killed and Eddie is implicated. Eddie is more than likely the one who did it, but, the movie skates over it. Without a definitive answer, I'm left to wonder if I'm supposed to root for a cold-blooded killer.
Robert De Niro co-stars as Carl, a big-time businessman who is at first hesitant but sees an opportunity to exploit Eddie. I must admit that it's probably the best role De Niro has had in the past decade. A speech that he gives toward the end reminded me of how good an actor he is.
The film is nevertheless intriguing and thrilling. The ending is confusing. Eddie has to make a choice whether or not he's going to continue taking the pill. Why he has to make that choice is compelling but its resolution is a head-scratcher.
Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for drug material, violence, sexuality and language.