By Gary Murray
Starring Bradley Cooper, Robert DeNiro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel and Tomas Arana
Written by Leslie Dixon
Directed by Neil Burger
Running time 105 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
One of my favorite stories is "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes. The tale concerns a mentally challenged young man who is given a genius IQ by science. It changes his life in ways that are not positive. It has been made into several different film and TV projects. The latest that uses the concept is the Neil Burger film Limitless.
The plot starts in medius rea with Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) standing on a ledge and wondering how a guy so smart could have miscalculated a few things. Then we go back to the beginning. Eddie is writer with some serious writer's block. With the due date of his novel looming, he struggles to get the words in the computer. His girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) gives up on him and his slacker ways. Eddie rests in the ebb of life.
In a happenstance, Eddie runs into his ex-brother in law, Vern. The guy was a drug dealer who says that he's gone legit, working on the right side of the drug industry. He gives Eddie a clear pill called NZT, telling him that the pill allows the user to access 100% of their brain. Wary, Eddie puts the pill in his pocket and eventually takes the drug.
Almost instantly, Eddie finds that he can remember anything he has seen, read or even glanced at. To his female landlady/law student, he becomes a scholar on both case law and theory. Once in his apartment, he turns into Mr. Cleaning Machine then dashes off a good chunk of his novel. Eddie realizes the positive aspects of the drug and that he need more of NZT.
Going back to his ex-brother in law's apartment, the finds Vern dead and the place ransacked. Someone must have been looking for NZT and Eddie knows that they didn't find it. Eddie makes his own search and finds a giant stash of cash and pills. He takes both. With the next pill, he finished off his novel, a feat that impresses his editor.
Then Eddie goes on an egghead binge–learning languages, understanding advanced mathematics and conquering the piano. He goes into mega party mode, living a high-style life and making friends with the jet set. Finally realizing that money is the major tool he needs, Eddie begins to focus on Wall Street. Using seed cash from a Slavic gangster, he turned a small wad of Benjamins into millions. Making so much cash in such a short amount of time piques the interest mega-mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro). Carl takes a wary interest in the youngster, knowing that some hot-shots can have a streak of good luck. After a few splashes of brilliance by Eddie, Carl offers him the chance to be on a giant merger, yielding millions upon millions.
Then, the side effects of the drug began to take hold of Eddie's mind. He loses hours of his life, not knowing if any crimes were committed while he was blacked-out. His struggle to keep his super chemically infused genius while keeping his sanity is the driving force behind Limitless. As he goes through the looking glass, Eddie finds that he has lost control of his mind.
The actual filming of Limitless is some of the most stunning work seen in a very long time. There are these long 'pull-forward’ shots that just fly down the streets of New York. To show how the drug works, there are multiple images of anyone who takes it. With split screens and over lapping images director Neil Burger gives the audience the unique experience of super genius Eddie, while never bogging down the physically telling of the tale.
Bradley Cooper does do a great job as the handsome rogue Eddie, the guy who may be the smartest guy in the room but who doesn't have the common sense. His transformation from geeky failed writer to Alpha dog male is a cautious transformation but it is also a fun ride. The serpentine path leads him to places he would rather not go and into people one doesn't want to make enemies of. Limitless becomes a fun ride with Bradley Cooper in the front car.
Abbie Cornish has very little to do other than be 'the girlfriend' of the piece. In one instance, she has to take a pill of NZT to get away from the forces following Eddie. It is an experience that she does not like and will never do again. Her instant recognition of the down-side of taking a drug is the cautionary tale in taking any unusual substance. She becomes our 'just say no' girl.
Robert DeNiro has been doing this kind of role, the street-smart guy who knows all the angles, for many years. This is just another 'more of the same' role. There is little effort in playing Carl Van Loon, it is just another in the list of paycheck roles for this honored thespian.
While Limitless is not the greatest film, it is a solid piece of entertainment. It has almost enough action and almost enough thought provoking moments. It becomes almost a cautionary tale of using chemicals to improve the body.