24 March 2011
2011, 105mins, 15
Director: Neil Burger
Writer: Leslie Dixon
Cast includes: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Anna Friel, Andrew Howard
UK Release Date: 23rd March 2011
The opening half of “Limitless” is terrific fun, the film’s inspired smart pill premise being contorted into an entertaining and visually inventive mystery. Bradley Cooper appears to be on confident form, whilst director Neil Burger keeps things aggressively charged through his numerous high octane tricks and stylistic flourishes. However “Limitless” can’t maintain such barnstorming momentum for the entirety of its runtime, instead the movie becomes overstuffed with subplots and characters, editing seemingly having taken an unfortunate backseat during the post-production process. As a whole the film is still worthy of a minor recommendation, but it’s disappointing that after such a fantastic beginning the picture should see fit to descend into impenetrable narrative anarchy.
A struggling and unkempt writer, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) has just lost his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) and is months behind schedule on his proposed book. When a figure from Eddie’s past offers him a drug to help cure his feckless existence, he reluctantly accepts, eventually ingesting the stimulant known only as NZT. Quickly Eddie’s life starts to fall into place, he completes his book in a matter of days, he smartens his appearance, he plays the Stock Market successfully and most importantly Lindy decides to give him another chance. NZT grants Eddie with an almighty boost of brainpower, everything from culture to mathematics to sexual dynamics becoming second nature. Eventually he draws the attention of powerful businessman Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), the legendary broker offering Eddie the chance to collaborate with him on a massive deal. However Eddie’s substance abuse eventually catches up with him, NZT being both the possessor of dangerous side effects, and more crucially the interest of several seedy personalities.
Burger puts in a mixed directorial performance here, the filmmaker constantly displaying surface level creativity, but occasionally falling foul to some fairly obvious fundamentals of the job. Visually “Limitless” is unstoppable, constantly basking in the aesthetical differences between a life with NZT and a life without. Everything from the cinematography to the sparse usages of CGI help to turn “Limitless” into a relentlessly kinetic viewing experience, Burger utilizing every flashy contortion he can think of. “Limitless” also manages to provide an agreeable cocktail of thriller and comedy, the picture evidencing a subtle sense of humor, backed ably by a game Cooper. In these departments Burger delivers the goods, “Limitless” would undoubtedly be a great film if his pacing and focus didn’t fail him so miserably during the final act.
The movie is at least 20 minutes too long, screenwriter Leslie Dixon simply having pushed too many components into the concept’s fragile structure. The combination of financial mischief, Russian hooligans and drug addled siblings becomes overbearing, and that’s without even considering the weak romantic subplot shoved hastily into the project’s DNA. Cornish is wasted in an onscreen relationship with Cooper that never reaches a satisfying conclusion, sabotaging a hefty chunk of the film’s humanity in the process. When the film concentrates on chase sequences and Eddie’s charming rise to infamy it genuinely works, but sadly these facets are ignored during the bloated and mostly unintelligible second half. Burger shows considerable technical prowess and editorial skill during the production’s excitable set-pieces, but struggles to replicate the same commendable judgement when it comes to the storytelling. It’s a crying shame.
Cooper is magnificently poised and charismatic as Eddie, convincing as an underachieving slob living out his wildest dreams. Overcoming the dead eyed indifference that has hampered him somewhat in the past, Cooper tackles “Limitless” as his first proper venture as a leading man, capitalizing on the chance frugally, refusing to let this apparent golden ticket pass him by. As a consequence he dominates the feature wonderfully, bringing everything to Eddie that the character demands. De Niro is still miles away from his own glory years, but his performance here is his most tolerable in quite some time. Together he and Cooper make for an unlikely but oddly watchable double act.
“Limitless” doesn’t have much to say on the perils of addiction, yet for at least 50% of its runtime the picture operates as a phenomenally slick thriller. It certainly detonates before its finale, but on the basis of several impressive ingredients, “Limitless” isn’t a total bust. It’s sporadically wasteful fare, but still good enough to warrant inspection when it arrives on DVD.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011