Bradley Cooper is a 36-year old American actor with textbook good looks: a wavy mane, tanned limbs and eyes so blue they're nearly pastel. He has enjoyed romances with Jennifer Aniston and Renée Zellweger. His shoulders are broad and his smile dazzling. Yet there is also something of the psychopath about him. Rob Delaney, comedian, recently tweeted: "I bet Bradley Cooper & Jared Leto text photos of women they've murdered to each other & have a good laugh". Over 100 people retweeted Delaney's speculation. Never mind Jared Leto for now. Whence Mr Cooper's creepiness?
Sure, plenty of actors pack a dose of darkness. Robert Downey, junior, Russell Brand and Matthew McConaughey are all easy examples of men who are murky yet unthreatening, more inclined to harm themselves than others. Sean Penn and Russell Crowe are dark in an impulsive, paparazzi-punching way. (By contrast, the flailing Mel Gibsons and Charlie Sheens of the celebrity world are not dark, because darkness is an adult quality. With their tantrums and whining, Messrs Gibson and Sheen remain—in every sense but dermatologically—children.) But there's a certain darkness that few leading men boast: the kind that leads to secret body parts discovered in a freezer.
With his easy charm and anodyne name, Bradley Cooper has made a career of playing characters that blur the line between "flawed protagonist" and "dangerously charming antihero". His Phil in "The Hangover" was a human oil slick, as was Ben in "He's Just Not That Into You". In "The Wedding Crashers" Mr Cooper's sociopathic sore loser was subsequently nominated by GQ as one of the top "movie dicks" of all time. In a recent New York Times profile he mentions his desire to play the callous and brutish Tom Buchanan in Baz Lurhmann's adaptation of "The Great Gatsby". If anyone is up to the task of remaking "Lolita" in about ten years, Mr Cooper would make a great Humbert Humbert. (As it happens, he wrote his college thesis on film adaptations of that novel.)
In "Limitless", a new film directed by Neil Burger, Mr Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a schlemiel with a failed writing career and no girlfriend. One day he runs into an ex-brother-in-law, Vernon, and they sit down for a casual drink. Vernon, who is both nefarious and powerful (traits signified by his wiggly eyebrows and absurdly thick business cards), offers Eddie a mysterious pill, seemingly with strings attached. Eddie takes it anyhow, and is suddenly able to access 100% of his brain rather than the small percentage that humans supposedly use. In 30 seconds he is suddenly wildly smart, a transformation made plain with some handy cinematic shorthand: his character writes a novel in four days, tosses around the word "algorithm" a lot, scarfs down toast points and plays the stock market. He also finally gets a haircut.
The film is Mr Cooper's first star vehicle, and Eddie Morra marks another entry in the actor's resumé of charismatic-but-creepy roles. Despite stealing drugs, killing a woman, knifing a thug and plunging a needle into somebody's eyeball, Eddie is still a sympathetic fellow. We do not like it when Eddie's girlfriend dumps him, or when Robert DeNiro's character calls him a "gutsy little schmuck". We want Eddie to succeed. And if the film’s performance at the box office is any indication, we want Bradley Cooper to succeed too.
Perverse as an audience’s love of the actor may seem, it’s worth remembering that he’s not, in the end, such an unusual Hollywood specimen. For every Bob Hope there's a James Cagney, for every Tom Hanks a Christian Slater. Man cannot live by Ryan Reynolds alone. Dark times call for dark celebrities, and these times are dark.
~ MOLLY YOUNG