An illicit drug transforms struggling writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) from a man crippled by self-doubt and headed for the skids to a world-beater in Neil Burger’s thriller. When an old friend slips him a dose of the untested substance, it prompts a massive rush of creativity, but its addictive downside also becomes frighteningly obvious and soon he’s craving more of the so-called NZT. All looks set for a fairly standard cautionary tale on the pros and cons of narcotics, yet Burger generates maximum impact from the amiable Cooper’s highs and lows, and poses interesting questions about the benefits accrued from such artificial assistance.
The director is also well served by Robert De Niro, who puts in one of his more effective recent performances as a ruthless tycoon. True, the film has some problematic loose ends and the female roles (sceptical girlfriend Abbie Cornish, troubled ex-wife Anna Friel) are largely underwritten, but otherwise this is punchy and witty entertainment with an adept balance of adrenaline rush and clear-eyed sobriety.
Co-writer John Sayles and director Joe Dante have huge fun turning werewolf clichés on their head in this rare beast – a horror film that gore fans and film buffs can enjoy. For the former, there is Rob Bottin’s amazing make-up and a witty plot in which a sceptical TV journalist (Dee Wallace) uncovers a werewolf colony that’s trying – unsuccessfully – to tame its animal instincts. And, for the latter, Dante touches his cap to monster greats of the past by naming key characters after cult horror directors such as Terry (Terence) Fisher and Fred (Freddie) Francis, and finding cameos for such genre alumni as Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller and Roger Corman.
This forceful drama, written and directed by Sean Penn, features one of Jack Nicholson’s least showy roles, as the father of a drink-driving victim who vows to kill the man responsible (David Morse) after he’s released from jail. What follows is not a plot-heavy revenge thriller, but a poignant and believable study of a tragedy that has sucked the life out of its tormented protagonists (which not only includes Morse’s character but also Anjelica Huston as Nicholson’s estranged wife). A slow-burning pace, fine performances and an intelligent script make this drama feel painfully real. Most of all, we genuinely care about the outcome.