Directed By: Neil Burger
Written By: Leslie Dixon (screenplay), Alan Glynn (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Anna Friel, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro,
I must admit I didn’t really have any desire to see Limitless. The premises seem somewhat contrived and nothing about it felt all that new or original. It being a March release hammered in my initial impressions, or so I thought. Not too long ago I began to hear some positive ramblings. These ramblings became louder so I thought I’d give it a shot when it recently became available on Netflix streaming. After only a short while I realized this film was the victim of a horrible marketing campaign. For one there’s a lot more substances then the trailer lets on. When it finally ended I had to admit my initial intonations were wrong. In fact it may be one of the biggest positive surprises of the year.
In Limitless Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a down on his luck writer who is living in the pit of despair. Through a chance encounter with an old acquaintance he is given an off the market experiential pill called NZT that will help solve all of his current problems. He explains the high from NZT isn’t like anything he has ever had before. The reason, is it’s not a high at all. Instead it allows you to access 100% of your brain. (I realize the idea that you only access 20% of your brain is an urban legend, but have to admit it does sound like a legitimate tagline for a pill) After Morra ingests it he begins to feel an immediate effect. For perhaps the first time in his life he is in ultimate control. The haze he has lived in has been lifted. He can now see what a mess of life he lives in. Anything he has ever read, watched, or glanced at becomes instantly engrained into his memory. With the smallest of details he can completely read everything about a person. Details most people would miss even about themselves. The book he hasn’t even started becomes finished in one night. He cleans the wasteland of an apartment he called home to resemble a Home and Garden magazine cover. After this night of nirvana he wakes up back where he started. Those super-like powers he had have left him as quickly as they came. This sequence was the first telling I was in for more than a run of the mill Jackal and Hyde retelling. The use of style really hammered in the effects NZT had on Morra. When he is off the drug the camera has a strong gritty look that you may not even notice when the film first begins. I didn’t until the drug sequence first kicked in and the picture become digitally clear. While it isn’t a groundbreaking use of the camera it did show that the director Neil Burger didn’t just go through the motions. Burger had some clever shots when trying to establish the capabilities Morra was able to accomplish on the drug. It did get a little reparative at times as the story went on, but overall I really dug his choices. The choice of songs and the mixture of both pratical and CGI where handled well through all the EZT sequences. After experiencing such an intellectual high Morra had to get more. When he went back to his old friend’s apartment he found it wrecked and his friend dead on the couch. The victim of a gunshot wound to the head. It was clear people where looking for the same thing he was. His only hope was they weren’t able find it. Luckily after an expansive search he stumbled upon a large stash that will forever change his life. With this new intellect he begins playing the stock market to earn some quick cash. What starts as quick cash turns into a small fortune after he creates a foolproof algorithm. This success gets him noticed by the business mogul Carol Von Loon played by Robert De Niro. De Niro has had a number of phone in performances in the last few years. While this wasn’t the De Niro of old there were times where you saw a glimmer of effort. While I never bought him as this ultimate cooperate CEO I did enjoy his back and forth with Bradley Cooper. Cooper shines throughout actually. It helped it was a familiar with as we all know he can play the over confident cocky type from his previous roles in “The Wedding Crashers” and “The Hangover”. Here he shows the ability to do a little more. A contrast of the personality his character goes through is a difficult one to pull off. Cooper succeeds due to his choice not to over play it on either end of spectrum. His desperate loser self is believable enough that you can see how a simple pill could make him an instant genius. As Morra becomes more dependent on this super pill side effects begin to peek in. Memory lapses, black outs, and headaches all start occurring. To makes matters worse the same people that killed the man who gave him the drug are hot on his trail. Plus a whole host of other new enemies begin to demand their own piece of Morra’s success. What started as the ultimate gift has quickly turned into the might be the item of his demise.
While Limitless has plenty of unique and interesting style it falters at times in the story department. There is almost never a complete overall narrative. Instead it has been replaced with a number of subplots. The interchanging of the different storylines is mishandled and feels messy. You jump from one to the other with little or no transition. Luckily each subplot is enjoyable enough to lessen the effects of the jolting structure. The only story I had an issue with was the love story that occurred between Eddie and Abbie Cornish’ character Lindy. I sense it was added just because of a last minute note from the studio. Sure it served a purpose just not enough to feel all that relevant. Another issue I had was the film didn’t explore the moral and ethical issues behind what Morra was doing. With an intelligent like the one he gained you would think philosophical thinking would peak its head in from time to time. While I realize that would have made for a completely different kind of movie, it could have yielded some intriguing results. Even with these issues I walked away having a very pleasant time. I never quite knew where the story was going, and was generally happy to see where we ended up. There are a number stereotypical moments, but far more originality then it’s is getting credit for. Perhaps not perfectly paced, but done well enough to hold your interest. There is some dragging in the middle where the plot began to meander. It needed a nice little kick to push the story forward. That didn’t last too long as it kicked it into high gear as it roared towards the climax. Though I mentioned Cooper’s performance already it’s worth noting again. The outcome of this picture would be determined on his ability to carry a movie. Something he hasn’t done on this scale yet. Cooper has had success in ensemble pieces, but he has no one else’s shadow to hide behind here. This is a challenge that is often too great for most to overcome , but here it is accomplished by Cooper to great effect. I never would have thought he’d be a believable super genius knowing what he has done to this point. I have to give him credit though he really pulled it off. For the guy you usually love to hate it was strange to be finally rooting for him. Oddly enough this character shares a lot of common traits from his previous ones. This time however those traits where put into a context to make his swaggerness easier to digest. Putting anyone in the hyper reality of cooperate America will make them better by association.
Expectations play a huge role when determining your viewpoint towards a movie. That was no doubt the case for me when I watched Limitless. Perhaps if I expected more I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself as much as I did. Certain issues such as a uneven tone and lack of fluidity to the story may have hindered my enthusiasm more. In the end I was able to look past these mistakes. There was enough there to distract me from the glaring errors. That may not be the case for some, but for me strong performances combined with clever direction made Limitless better than the sum of its parts.