It’s wonderful to experience a film that sets realistic goals for itself and handily achieves them. Limitless does exactly that. It isn’t necessarily groundbreaking or novel, but it manages its available assets effectively. The cinematography is deliberate and evocative, the acting is spot-on and the writing is exceptional. Audiences will have appropriate expectations and no one will walk away disappointed – at least not in the way that many films leave viewers disappointed. Limitless does have a few questionable moments, like unexplored plots and an inexplicable ending, but the rest of the film is done so well that any shortcomings are easily forgettable.
Novelist Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is having a hard time in life. He lives in a pigsty of an apartment he can’t afford, because he hasn’t finished the novel he’s been commissioned to write. In fact, he hasn’t written a single word. For some reason, he lacks the drive and focus to get the job done, which seems to be a theme running throughout his life, which consequently convinces his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) to dump him. Down on his luck, Eddie runs into an old acquaintance who introduces him to the illicit drug NZT, which is supposed to give the user access to 100% of his or her brain. Eddie takes it and it works wonders for him, allowing him to finish his book, get his girlfriend back and make extraordinary advances in other aspects of his life. Eddie leaves the literary world behind and puts his expanded conscious to good use in the stock market. His stream of successes catches the eye of billionaire Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) who needs Eddie to help him navigate a delicate merger. Unfortunately, Eddie discovers the deadly aspects of NZT, which include side effects and other people who want the drug.
Limitless is a remarkably well put together film and conveys the experience of drug influence and addiction exceedingly well. Fisheye camera lenses, out-of-body experiences and source-less illumination are clever tricks the filmmakers use to show the effects of NZT. One of the best visuals in the film, however, is when the camera continually zooms to impossible magnifications, delivering the mind expansion experience to everyone watching. The first time the effect is used is almost disorienting and viewers will love every moment of it.
The writing – adapted by Leslie Dixon from the book The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn – is positively stellar. Eddie Morra does exactly what anyone else would do in the same situation given this super power: abuse it. As such, his plight is particularly sympathetic. The people in his life are also wonderfully colorful people, like the loan shark Gennady (Andrew Howard) who goes from two-bit gangster to businessman once he gets hooked on NZT. The best dialogue, however, goes to Carl Van Loon who, in one short, concise speech, dresses down Eddie effortlessly and almost nonchalantly. The scene is so well written that it actually seems to inspire De Niro to act to his fullest potential.
There are a few moments in the film, however, that seem out of sync with the rest of the movie. For instance, when Eddie’s girlfriend is being chased by a knife-wielding killer she’s forced to look for a weapon. Despite being surrounded by more conventional implements of death, like a bat or gardening shears, she instead opts for the most improbable weapon available and it’s difficult to know if the scene is meant to be funny. There’s also an undeveloped plot that has Eddie potentially killing a random woman, but he was so doped up on NZT that he can’t remember what actually transpired. While this plot point is only meant to set up another plot point, it seems important enough to resolve, but it never is. Finally, the ending wraps up a little too neatly without a satisfying explanation, which is a shame, because the rest of the film is presented so tightly.
Eddie Morra is a great role for Bradley Cooper and he absolutely nails it. His transformation from loser to god to junkie is real fun to watch and Cooper is completely believable throughout. At this point in his career, if Cooper has been treading the threshold of stardom, then his performance in Limitless should easily carry him through. Robert De Niro also turns in one of his more natural performances. His supporting role seems to force him to get more mileage out of his scenes, which he does, keeping the sinister side of Carl Van Loon just barely beneath the surface. Here’s hoping for more roles like this for both actors.
There’s very little to dislike about Limitless. It’s a film that audiences can get into mainly because it creates a situation that most viewers can imagine themselves in. Also, despite its sometimes dark presentation, the film also has an indirect positive message, which is that everyone has the potential to be amazing; we just need to know how to unlock it.