Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, and Robert De Niro.
Distributor: Roadshow Films
Runtime: 105 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Drug themes, violence, sexual references and infrequent coarse language

This American thriller film is based on the 2001 novel, “The Dark Fields” by Alan Glynn and is adapted for the screen by Leslie Dixon, who co-produced the movie.

Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a down-and-out, unemployed writer, who is dumped by his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish) for being a loser. He has little motivation to fend for himself, and he is an alcoholic, who takes drugs. She believes Eddie has no future, and Eddie believes that too. Eddie is accidentally introduced to a new wonder-drug, NZT, by his ex-wife’s brother, and he samples the drug recklessly. The drug has some unusual effects. Almost instantaneously, it gives him super-human powers, and it allows him access to every part of his brain. Suddenly he is confident, more intelligent, and has acquired an unbelievable memory, all of which gets him to the top very quickly in the financial world. Everything Eddie has ever read, or memorized, is instantly re-organised for him, and it carries focused meaning. Success is helped also by the fact that he can predict financial events that affect market down-turns and up-turns with amazing speed.

Eddie’s abilities soon attract the attention of business tycoon Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who sees Eddie as the way for him to make a personal fortune. But Eddie’s success carries a heavy price. The drug has bad after-effects, not the least of which it kills you if you stop taking it. Eddie finds himself being pursued by those who want to get access to the drug, and by those who want to keep the drug a secret, and he is a target for murder on both counts.

Philosophically, the film raises a number of thought-provoking issues. What is the nature of power and success? What are the prices one has to pay for achieving them? Can there be a limit to the benefits, that flow from your being a different person? And is belief in invincibility ultimately destructive?

The film doesn’t spend a lot of time on any of these issues, but is basically geared to entertain as a thriller. But what it does, however, is to sustain the thesis that there are decided benefits to dangerous drug-taking that maybe are worth the risk. There is a fine line between a film that highlights the negative effects of drug-taking (and this drug has a lot), and one that subtly encourages it. This film hugs the edge of that line, and clearly advocates the message (to quote Eddie Morra): “if it is worth the risk, what would you do?”

From being a loser on all sides, Eddie becomes a winner on nearly every count, and it requires acting talent by Bradley Cooper to make the switch. His girl friend naturally has him back, but she has to help him deal with the forces that are tightening their control of his mind. Abbie Cornish, an Australian actress, competently takes on that role, and Robert De Niro brings a moderately low-key professional presence to his part. Ultimately, however, the thriller components of the film become subordinate to the movie’s provocative possibilities that lie behind its plot-line.

The development of mental super-powers is not entirely an original theme in the cinema, and it is the nature of the thriller action that ultimately determines this film’s impact, not the thought-provoking issues that it raises. There is some smart camera-work, and the film entertains, but overall, it is not a highly original contributor to the thriller stakes. It has some very silly scenes (like drinking human blood to get a hit of NZT), that are mixed in with some good ones. There’s suspense and tension there, but the movie is a long way from keeping you consistently sitting on the edge of your seat.

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