"What if a pill could make you rich and powerful?"
If the opportunity arose and you could be the best version of yourself, wouldn't you take it? That, in a nutshell is the idea behind this film. Bradley Cooper plays a down on his luck, untalented writer that can't even manage to write a single word on paper until one day he meets an old acquaintance, Vernon, his ex-brother in law. Vernon, back when Cooper's character, Eddie, was married to Vernon's sister, Melissa, was a drug dealer in their college days. Vernon sees how Eddie is struggling and offers him a pill that allows you to use one hundred percent of your brain, and become limitless.
Eddie's entire persona changes, he becomes much more confident, much smarter and the writer that he always wanted to be. He managed to finish a book in a night and wants more of the pill. He goes Vern and finds him murdered. He finds Vern's place torn apart from people most likely looking for his stash of pills, but of course they don't find it and Eddie does. He uses the stash and becomes a much better version of himself, winning his girlfriend back almost immediately and gaining large amounts of money quickly.
Sure it sounds great, but as Uncle Ben says in Spiderman, "with great power comes great responsibility." Eddie figures this out as he realizes he is being tailed by a mysterious man in a tan coat and he also begins to have what he calls "skips". In these "skips", Eddie managed to lose hours at a time and have no control over it. It's not really clearly explained as to how they happened but it is believed to be the result of your mind being at the highest capability at all times when it is not meant to.
The "skips" and the man following him become the drawback of the pill. He also very quickly realizes that if he misses a dosage that he begins to feel like death as his body seems to deteriorate. He takes it upon himself to contact other people that have taken the pill, supplied by Vernon, and see how they are. Most of them are either dead or hospitalized, so Eddie decides to regulate how often he takes the pill. Once a day, with a good meal or two a day and sleep allows him to maintain. However, that still doesn't stop everyone else that knows about the pill from wanting it. A loan shark, who somehow manages to be somewhat of a comic relief due to his delivery of lines, comes after him aggressively when he takes one pill which eventually leads to a grotesque scene. The mysterious man that had been following him all along turns out to be a hit man of sorts for a businessman that needed the pills to stay alive. He manages to get by both and gets closer to his hopes of helping the world on a much grander scale.
The film is very entertaining and benefits from some flashy special effects thanks to the talents of director Neil Burger. However it has drawbacks due to the fact that it is never known exactly as to how Eddie wants to use his smarts to help the world become a better place. I could guess but my guess would spoil the end, which I don't want to do. The other thing that was a bit bothersome is his relationship with Abbie Cornish's character, Lindy. In the beginning, when he is the normal version of himself off the pill he tells Lindy when she breaks up with him that she is everything to him. He calls her his paramour, but it doesn't feel like it. It may have been the actors but he seemed to feel more for Melissa in the limited amount of screen time they had together.
The film works very well when Cooper and De Niro are on screen together. The two of them played off each other very well and their characters seemed to have a nice rivalry. The best lines in the film came from their banters back and forth, like at the the end of the film when Eddie gets a one up on De Niro's, Van Loom. The rivalry between them managed to keep the film going later in the film as things got slightly out of hand. Van Loom seemed to be a bit jealous of the fact that a kid out of nowhere just manages to rise at such fast rate while it must have taken himself a long time to get to.
Bradley Cooper was very convincing in the role and was able to handle going from "normal" Eddie to the best version of Eddie effortlessly. The two Eddie's were completely different people. One was a complete loser, and a bit depressing while the other was charismatic, charming and incredibly smart. Cooper, coming from film's such as The Hangover and The A-Team shows that he can carry a movie and do it well.
Abbie Cornish as Lindy seems a bit out of place. It may just be an under developed character or just as simple as she doesn't have much to go on. She serves as the pretty girlfriend but doesn't do much else. Her scenes with Bradley Cooper were a bit bland and caused the film to slow down a bit, maybe deliberately as it is an incredibly fast paced film. Andrew Whitworth also had a small part as Vernon the dealer that introduced Eddie to the pill. In what little time he had he did a good job portraying the hectic dealer.
It is not a perfect film, but it is still very entertaining thanks in large part to Neil Burger's directing style and the chemistry between De Niro and Cooper. It is however a pseudo-thriller that works but also doesn't. The premise had something that was very intriguing, but they didn't go the extra mile to make it a great movie. This movie may very well turn out to be a stepping stone for Cooper's career as his first solid film that shows off his acting chops. The drawbacks in the film are small, but also can deter people from liking the movie. I find that this film is very hit or miss with people, you won't really find a middle ground. On a side note, the story was initially a 2001 novel titled "The Dark Fields" by Alan Glynn. The differences between the film are small, the character Lindy doesn't appear in the novel and the ending is quite different.