The Film: Limitless

The Principals: Director: Neil Burger. Starring: Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth, Andrew Howard.

The Premise: Eddie Morra is his own worst enemy. Barely eeking out an existence as a wanna be sci-fi novelist, Eddie has led a life of self sabotage and squandered potential.  Through a chance meeting with his shady ex-brother in-law (Whitworth), Eddie comes into possession of a revolutionary and illegal new drug which grants the user full access to all of the resources of the human brain. On the drug, Eddie becomes a super-being of sorts with limitless intellectual potential, and soon finds himself rising quickly in the corridors of power by becoming a financial analyst for a mega-powerful corporate magnate (DeNiro). But of course, there is a price to be paid, and not only does Eddie discover frightening side effects to being both on and off the drug, but he also gets caught up with a Russian mobster (Howard) who has his own plans for the drug’s usage, as well as a shadowy enemy who seems intent on framing him and getting his secret stash. Things spiral out of control and Eddie soon finds himself caught in a web of conspiracy and murder from which not even his “limitless” facilities can save him.

Is It Good: Yes.  Limitless is a tight, entertaining thriller with a great central concept and a strong visual style. Neil Burger’s direction is confident and slick; he throws a lot at you but the film never feels bogged down. It’s pretty much a top notch production from the ground up, and all the performers handle themselves well, with the standouts being Cooper, DeNiro and Howard. It’s a thriller with brains, and it deftly avoids a lot of the pitfalls typically seen in these types of mid-budget, high concept affairs.  There are some minor quibbles that I’ll get into, and the film isn’t good enough to register as a classic or to be something I revisit any time soon, but for the time I spent watching it I was engaged and entertained.

First off – Bradley “Popsicle Eyes” Cooper. For my money, this may be Cooper’s best role to date; he really is the perfect guy to inhabit Eddie Morra’s skin as he can do downtrodden loser and uber-confident winner equally well. There’s a duality to Eddie that Cooper pulls of effortlessly; it made me think he would be ideal for some sort of Jekyll and Hyde reworking.  It was the switching back in forth between Eddie’s mental states that I enjoyed the most in terms of Cooper’s acting, and the film does a great job of heightening these states with color timing and camera tricks. I felt that Eddie’s inner world was effectively illustrated with the language of the film, and the credit for this belongs to Burger.

I wasn’t overly impressed with Neil Burger’s The Illusionist, so it was a little surprising to see what a triumph of style this film turned out to be. There are some incredibly cool sequences in the film, particularly when Eddie’s drugged state kicks in and we see this hyper-real, sped up version of reality he is experiencing. Impossibly long camera zooms, popping colors and clever but never disorienting editing are Burger’s arsenal, and he uses them all to great effect without ever seeming masturbatory.  The film impresses visually without ever overwhelming or taking precedent to the story.

Not to say there aren’t some problems. Burger doesn’t seem to know what to do with the female characters, for instance. Abbie Cornish plays Cooper’s girlfriend who we see dumping him on the outset, and later becomes involved with him again once he starts living up to his potential thanks to the drug. She sort of serves as his moral compass, but not really, because ultimately the film isn’t really interested in the morality of what Eddie is doing, it’s more interested in the machinations of the plot. This results in Cornish getting one cool scene where she has to take the drug to escape from a murderous pursuer, but then she pretty much disappears. Anna Friel doesn’t fare much better as Eddie’s ex who turns up damaged from years of using the drug. That’s another thread the film isn’t interested in – what the effects the drug will ultimately have on Eddie. It addresses them but then just tosses them aside, which is too bad because I was more interested in that than the whole grand conspiracy angle.

But that’s the difference between the movie I may have wanted and the movie that is, and judged on its own terms Limitless is a pretty damn good movie. The style and performances more than make up for the minor story nitpicks. It earned Cooper some good will from me in the future, and I’m definitely interested to see what Neil Burger does next. Oh, and Robert DeNiro actually shows up to do some acting, so that’s always a plus when that happens. Good job guys.

Random Anecdotes: Apparently Shia LaBeouf was originally cast as Eddie but had to drop out after he broke his hand in that drunken car accident. Thank god. I really would not have wanted to see him in this role, not that I hate Shia or anything. Cooper was the right man for the job.

Cinematic soulmates:  It’s sort of the bastard child of Wall Street and Trainspotting. Sort of.