An intoxicating mix of style, substance and charm, Limitless is an engrossing thriller with vivid effects, oh-so memorable scenes and a thought-provoking story. Directed by Neil Burger (The Illusionist) and based on the novel, The Dark Fields, by Alan Glynn, the film is also a perfect vehicle for actor Bradley Cooper who finally puts the “eye candy” notions from critics to rest. But it’s not all razzle with a fistful of dazzle, the story never ceases to be less than interesting and was perfectly adapted to screen by veteran scribe Leslie Dixon who has helped adapt (and re-adapt) movies for much her career.
Eddie Morra is the pontification of “down and out.” Barely making ends meet, the writer has a book contract and is struggling to even put together a single sentence. The beast of the blinking cursor has Eddie on the run. He sinks himself in booze and looks like a hobo sans a super cool bindle. Plus his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) just broke up with him. So there’s that. His life sucks right now, which can only mean one thing. It’s the perfect opportunity for movie fate to come in the form of smarmy pharmaceutical rep/former brother in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), to take poor Eddie back to the bar for a pick-me-up.
Vernon takes pity on Eddie and offers him a freebie of a wonder drug that allows its user to use the entirety of the brain, not just a measly 20-percent. Eddie is fed lines about how the drug, code-named NZT, will help him break creative barriers and zip through the writing of his sci-fi book. Uh-huh…riiiight. After popping the pill, depressed Eddie’s gray world of humdrum mediocrity is turned into a beaming sunny existence. With all of his synapses firing on all cylinders, Eddie plows through a chunk of his book in a day and has the astonishing ability to recall memories seemingly lost forever. Letters rain from the sky and Eddie, formerly a victim of writer’s block (hell, life’s block too), is now a mental superhuman with an IQ in the four digits.
Then the pill wears off. Eddie is back to being sub-par Eddie and sup-par Eddie is a terrible place to be. But a drug that rings in at $800 a pop is bad too. Eventually, as bad luck rains on Vernon like the letters for Eddie, the writer now has a stash of NZT to call his own. Complicated math is child’s play, patterns and algorithms are easily identifiable and learning to play instruments along with mastering foreign tongues (in more ways than one – wink!) is a cinch. But writing isn’t doing it for him anymore. He needs something…more…something…bigger. He finds it in the stock market.
Putting together a massive portfolio in record time, Eddie’s meteoric rise catches the attention of financial bigwig Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), the head of one of the world’s biggest energy firms. Van Loon wants Eddie’s assistance in negotiating a mammoth merger and sees Eddie’s “God-given talent” as a boon for his organization. Here’s the rub: Eddie’s pills are depleting fast and his body, under massive strain from the focus induced by the drug, is wearing out fast. He comes to find out that other users of the drug have wound up in the hospital or dead.
Being chased down by a mysterious man and constantly confronted by a Russian gangster, Eddie soon learns what Diddy meant by “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”
Film students will note the many layers of the film and how the story makes allusions to Western consumerism, the cult of multitasking and, of course, the mainstreaming of pharmaceutical drugs. But that’s boring. For movie lovers, Limitless is like a batch of fresh-baked cookies. Sure, you expect the chocolate chips (writers are unshaven and flighty, Russian gangsters, business moguls are shady), but the smell is what makes people salivate. The cut-shots, Jo Willems’ cinematography and the sparsely yet impactive visual effects makes Limitless stand out. It’s also unexpectedly funny as Cooper’s full range of talents are nicely applied.
Limitless doesn’t take itself so seriously and Burger could have easily done this. It could have been a grandiose lecture film, but instead it’s a bit light. Fan reaction may be mixed because of this or the notion –plausible as it is– that Burger didn’t go far enough is valid. While the vast majority of the film is executed well, the ending is abrupt and a tad confusing, which forces fans to ask questions that Burger most likely didn’t intend. Well…besides “Oh, I can’t believe he drank that.”
Still, Limitless may not make your own synapses work overtime, the movie makes for a memorable night.