The folks over at People magazine have completely lost their minds. Not that I follow People, mind you, but I can't help but absorb certain things from being in the culture. Their annual "Sexiest Man Alive," for instance, is one of those inescapable cultural events that you have to actively hide yourself away from. This year's award goes to Bradley Cooper. I've liked Cooper in the past, mainly in movies where he's suffering some horrible horror movie death or torture, a la The Midnight Meat Train, but I generally enjoy those movies because he has one of those leading man faces I like seeing get punched. But "The Sexiest Man Alive?" Um, haven't you guys seen this guy?
Hubba hubba, right? C'mon. I know you've seen him. He was on the cover of the magazine back in May. Well, to each her own, I guess.
Cooper, for his part, keeps getting his shot at stardom, and the jury is still out on this point absent the ensemble of the Hangover movies. He's attractive, yes, but he has a strange lack of charisma, that mysterious quality that determines "star power." Has Cooper been able to "carry" a movie yet? I don't think he has. A case in point is 2011's Limitless, directed by Neil Burger, a movie in which Cooper plays a character who takes a pill to unleash the hidden capacity of the human mind. This premise isn't new, of course. Science fiction has been dealing with supermen for decades. This movie, then, is a later day Flowers for Algernon. You get the meteoric rise, sure, and you get the fall. In this movie, the drug turns Cooper's Eddie Morra, at the beginning of the movie a sad sack writer, into a high finance version of Sherlock Holmes with a preternatural ability to connect the dots even in a down market. He can do a lot of other things, too, like learn a language in a day and write a novel in a week, but he doesn't value these abilities (which is odd, considering that people generally become writers for the love of it--there's certainly no money in it for most of us).
There's a lot to admire in this movie. It's an interesting high concept, and director Burger has staged some interesting ways to suggest Eddie's new abilities, including seeing the answers write themselves on the ceiling in one scene, and literally leap off the page in another. It's what he does with all of this that seems off, somehow, and it's an indictment of our cultural values, methinks. The pinnacle of human endeavor, this movie posits, is to become one of high finance's lords of the universe. It's buying into both the Horatio Alger myth (though minus the work ethic) and the universe of Ayn Rand. Look at how this goes: writer = unreliable loser; broker = awesome. Cooper is kind of likable as a loser writer, with all the polish knocked off of him, but look at what it gets him: his girlfriend leaves him, his landlord hassles him, and his editor holds him in contempt. When he becomes a financier, all of that reverses. Hell, he even gets to fuck any gorgeous woman he wants without any kind of commitment or consequence. I dunno. Maybe Cooper is perfect for this role, because it requires him to become a kind of asshole.
The movie sweetens the genre pot with a murder and the Russian mob and it gives Eddie the ability to have total recall of martial arts moves he's seen (a la Chocolate), but that's all pretty much make-work plotting to hang the movie's big ideas on and to give Eddie an incentive to distrust the pills he is taking. The movie has a moralizing point as it descends from it's midstream climax, but it's not cruel enough to Eddie. It doesn't strip enough away from him or make him take a cold hard look at what he's become. This is a movie completely built for the dark descent of film noir--it even has that noir chestnut of the murder the hero thinks he himself might have committed--but it blinks. Instead, it opts to keep its superman, sans kryptonite, and sans any moral consequences for his rapid ascent. All those dead bodies on the way up? That's the price of doing business and who's going to miss a bunch of evil Russian mobsters, eh?
In any case, I don't really dislike this movie, per se. It's engaging while you watch it and it's even cinematically interesting most of the time. But, man, I really hate Cooper's Eddie Morra and I hate the Randian fantasy at the core of the movie and I hate the fucking wardrobe it puts Cooper into with its casual suit sans tie and I hate the fact that the movie has Robert De Niro as a corporate raider and fails to make him an evil son of a bitch or a character of any pith and moment at all. I like Abbie Cornish as Eddie's girlfriend, and, hell, I even like Cooper himself in the early part of the movie, doing his best impression of Ralph Fiennes in Strange Days. But it's not enough. Cooper doesn't carry the movie, even when it's built around his specific screen persona. Maybe they should have tortured him more. I could have gotten behind that.