A very good friend of mine gave me Neil Burger’s drug fuelled sci-fi as a Christmas present and, having watched the flick with an appropriately clear head, I’m glad he did.
The premise is simple. A disheveled writer suffering block whilst dealing with the collapse of a relationship is given a wonder drug by an ex brother in law which allows his brain to work at full capacity (Utilising the old “we only use 10% our our brains” myth) turbo-boosting his intelligence, supercharging his social skills and transforming him into an all round incredible human. This dramatically changes his life and he finds himself creatively productive to unprecedented levels with inroads into the world of the business elite. Of course it’s not all plain sailing as the side effects of the drug coupled with the dangerous attentions of a surly mysterious pursuer and a comic book cliche Russian gangster looking to get a hold of the merchandise threaten to derail his artificial good fortune.
Our protagonist is Eddie Morra, played by the very capable Bradley Cooper. My only previous exposure to Cooper was in The Hangover which was ok, if not a little over-rated. The lead performance here is just what’s required. Cooper handles the transition between the Morra’s 2 worlds with ease and is perfectly believable as a struggling writer and sharp suited business wunderkid.
Given the extreme use of voiceover in this picture and the singularity of the story, it is difficult to find any depth in the supporting characters. Even Robert De Niro, appearing as the uber powerful businessman Carl Van Loon, is a mere bit player. His place on the film poster would appear to be for box office draw as the Russian gangster played by Andrew Howard has an arguably bigger part to play in the unfolding of Morra’s story. Abby Cornish (An absolute smash in the 2004 Australian flick Somersault) is decent as Morra’s girlfriend Lindy but has nowhere to go and is fairly one dimensional.
The film is nicely shot in a way that serves the story with the juxtaposition of washed out, desaturated mire and bright, orange tinged euphoric colours being used to good effect to display where Morra is in terms of chemical assistance. There are also nice special effect flourishes, I particularly enjoyed the glowing stream of consciousness that rained down on on Morra after taking his first clear pill, the warmness of the shot with the tumbling letters really give a sense of how the character is feeling.
Let’s be honest, this flick is not going to win any Oscars, it’s not going to revered in 20 years time and it’s probably not going be discussed in any film schools. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age but this kind of fare does not seem to get on my nerves as much as it used to. I can forgive the gaping holes in the plot and I can forgive the fact that the origins of the drug are not adequately explored because the underlying point of the film is an interesting one. In a world where everyone wants everything in an instant and without effort, whether it be fame via reality tv shows, or wealth via the lottery, maybe the whimsicalness of the storytelling is simply a nod to the subject matter. In a society where face value is king, maybe that’s exactly how this film should be taken.