Film Review: Limitless (dir. by Neil Burger)

This review is a little late.  I saw Limitless last Friday and I was hoping to write up this review on Sunday.  Unfortunately, I ended up 1) not sleeping at all between Saturday night and Sunday morning and 2) having a massive, life-threatening asthma attack between Sunday night and Monday morning.  Anyway, this all led to the usual Emergency Room hijinks (I’m on a first name basis with a lot of the nurses now and it was nice to get all caught up with them once I finished nearly dying) and then I came home a few hours later, intent on writing up my review but then I was ordered to rest and anyway, it all boils down to this: the review is late.

In Limitless, Bradley Cooper plays Eddie.  Eddie is a writer who is suffering from a terrible case of writer’s block.  He’s divorced, he drinks too much, and his tiny apartment is seriously so filthy that I would never step foot in it, even if it was owned by Bradley Cooper.  In short, Eddie’s a loser.

However, one day, Eddie runs into Vernon (Johnny Whitworth).  Vernon is Eddie’s former brother-in-law but even more importantly, he’s a drug dealer.  After hearing about Eddie’s troubles, Vernon gives Eddie a pill which is designed to allow Eddie to use 100% of his brain as opposed to just 20% of it.  (Wisely, the film doesn’t spend too much time trying to explain how exactly the drug works but essentially, it’s the strongest ADD medication ever.)  Reluctantly, Eddie takes the pill and, half-a-minute later, he’s the smartest man on the planet.

(Actually, the film’s advertising is deceptive.  The pill doesn’t make Eddie smarter as much as it just allows him to focus his mind and remember all of the thousands of little lessons that we learn everyday and lose track of almost immediately.  Director Neil Burger does something very clever here, making use of flashbacks to illustrate the difference between Eddie’s mind on drugs and his mind while sober.  Most importantly, the film doesn’t make Eddie the smartest man on the planet, just the most focused.)

After one day on the drug, Eddie wakes up to discover that he’s a dullard again.  He goes to Vernon to try to get more of the drugs but, during the visit, Vernon is murdered by persons unknown.  Eddie manages to escape with Vernon’s stash and quickly finds himself both addicted and succesful.  He finishes his book in a matter of days.  He makes a fortune on the stock market.  Eventually, he is hired as a financial advisor by a ruthless business tycoon (Robert De Niro) and he transforms himself into the center of the universe.

At the same time, Eddie grows more and more dependent upon the drug and, with Vernon dead, he has no way to replenish his own dwindling supply.  As he tries to find someone else with a supply, he discovers that everyone else who has tried it has ended up dying as soon as their supply ran out.  He also discovers that someone knows about his supply and they’re determined to take it away from him.  As well, he soon starts to suffer from black outs as time and space apparently skips around him.  One morning, he discovers that a woman he vaguely realizes was murdered during one of his blackouts.  Is he the murderer?  Or is there a greater conspiracy at work?

As a film, Limitless is definitely uneven.  It meanders a bit in the middle, Robert De Niro is wasted in a role that seems more appropriated for an actor like Frank Langella, and there’s a lot of plot points that just seem to vanish after they’re introduced. 

However, flaws and all, Limitless is still an enjoyable little thriller that on a few very rare occasions manages to suggest something deeper going on beneath the surface.  The premise is intriguing and, though I could have done without some of Cooper’s heavy-handed, off-screen narration, the film is intelligently written and even has a few moments of genuine wit.  Director Neil Burger does a good job contrasting the drabness of Cooper’s life as a sober loser with the vibrancy of his existence as a victorious addict.  Burger also does a good job of visualizing those moments when Cooper’s mind starts to skip through time and space.  Speaking as someone who has had similar experiences while taking dexedrine (which I take for ADD, it’s all legal), these scenes ring surprisingly true.

Much like Inception, Limitless is fortunate to have an excellent cast.  Everyone in the film seems to be taking his or her role seriously and works to keep things compelling and relatable no matter how outlandish the plot might occasionally get.  Abbie Cornish (who starred in one of my favorite films of all time, Bright Star) doesn’t get to do much in the role of Cooper’s girlfriend but she does get one great scene where she has to take a pill in order to escape a pursuer.  (And after seeing that scene, I’ll never watch ice skating the same way again.)  Johnny Whitworth oozes a potent combination of sleaze and charisma while Anna Friel has a poignant cameo as Cooper’s ex-wife.  Playing a Russian mobster, Andrew Howard is both funny and scary (which is saying something since the sarcastic Russian mobster is such a familiar character archetype that I now roll my eyes whenever I hear a Russian accent in a film because I know exactly what’s coming up).

However, the film truly belongs to Bradley Cooper and he probably gives his best performance to date here.  I have to admit that I love Bradley Cooper.  I’ve loved ever since I saw the Hangover.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t love him because he was the guy making snarky comments in Vegas or encouraging his friends to be irresponsible.  Quite frankly, those scenes could have been acted by an actor with a cute smile.  No, I fell in love with Bradley Cooper at the end of the film when I saw his character at his friend’s wedding, holding his film son in his lap.  There was something surprisingly genuine about Cooper’s performance in those scenes that it forced me to reconsider everything that had happened in the film up to that point.  Those scenes offered a hint that Cooper is the type of talented movie star that Limitless proves him to be.

6 responses to “Film Review: Limitless (dir. by Neil Burger)

  1. You could pick the script apart for impossibilities. But why bother? It’s much more enjoyable to shut your brain off and have a good time. Cooper is also amazing as a leading man, and can really pull it off. Good review, check out mine when you can!


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