Theatrical Review: Limitless

Eddie Morra is a divorced writer who’s having some trouble getting motivated.  He has a book contract to write a science fiction novel, but he can’t even put the first word down.  His current girlfriend is at the end of her rope with him and leaves him.  The world is pretty much weighing down on Eddie, and then a twist of fate occurs.  He has a chance encounter with his former brother-in-law, Vernon, on the street.  Eddie’s brother-in-law had a shady reputation as a drug dealer, but now he swears he’s legit.  Vernon has a new drug that he swears is FDA-approved called NZT.  Taking NZT allows it’s user to use 100% of their brain.  Eddie, with nothing left to use, takes the drug… and hijinks ensue.

Limitless is the newest movie from director Neil Burger, who’s best known for making the movie The Illusionist with Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and Jessica Biel.  With Limitless director Burger and star (and executive producer) Bradley Cooper, deliver a pretty wild ride with something that on it’s surface might seem little more than an extended episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, and much like those TV shows, it has quite a bit to chew on, though it’s not entirely successful.

Where it’s not successful is in the fact that there are a lot of plot holes in this as the story unfolds.  The thing is, I don’t necessarily want to go into all of those because I actually do think Limitless is a ride worth taking, and some of those holes do spoil a few things.  At the same time, by the nature of a person taking NZT, a lot of those holes can be explained away, but that’s up to the individual viewer to determine if he or she wants to make that leap.  The one that isn’t easily explained away though is a section of the movie that has Eddie encountering a Russian mobster to borrow money and then have to pay it back.  There are parts here that if one looked at this logically just should not have happened, and yet they do.  To me, the only explanation for why they do is just to move the action forward and add a definite physical action element to the movie.  I think both could’ve been accomplished a little more logically, though they probably would’ve added quite a bit more to the film’s running time.

Another thing that I found just a little troubling was the movie’s ending.  Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in that it definitely does cause you to talk about what you’ve just seen.  The ending isn’t atypical of this type of movie, which at it’s core is a take on drug abuse.  It didn’t quite set well with me, but at the same time, I have to give Burger points on daring to go into this direction.

The final thing that doesn’t quite work with me is in the casting, but I’ll get more into that later.  Still the pluses here are huge.  Burger’s shooting style and camera tricks are absolutely amazing.  The look of this movie is really nicely done.  In particular, this really stands out when Eddie takes the NZT for the first time.  While there are holes in the story, the dialogue is first rate.  That dialogue also contributes to how a viewer can fill in some of the holes on their own, though again that all hinges on whether you want to do that yourself.  And finally, there’s Bradley Cooper…

Cooper delivers one hell of a performance here.  His transformation is highly believable and he has enough charisma to drive this movie forward despite it’s plot holes.  Cooper supplies narration throughout, and his delivery is smooth and convicted.  It’s probably the best I’ve seen him on screen yet.  Cooper’s backed up by some good supporting work, in particular from Abbie Cornish who plays his girlfriend, Lindy, Anna Friel who plays his former wife Melissa is stellar in a brief scene, and Johnny Whitworth as Vernon convincingly sets the whole thing forward.

Where it doesn’t quite work as well for me is with Robert DeNiro.  DeNiro plays Carl Van Loon, a business tycoon who Eddie Morra gets involved with.  DeNiro’s Van Loon is a pretty rumpled character who doesn’t, at least to me, appear as slick as he should.  To his credit though, there’s no mugging to the camera and the line delivery is pretty good.  Still, I would’ve rather had seen someone like a Michael Douglas or a Dustin Hoffman in this part.  DeNiro’s not a dealbreaker by any means and this is purely a personal view of him in the film, your own mileage might vary wildly.

Even with my problems with the movie, I found Limitless to be quite an engaging ride.  Smart dialogue, Neil Burger’s stunning visuals and a fantastic performance from Bradley Cooper carry the day.  The way it’s all carried through makes it’s initial premise compelling and by the end of the movie, you should be asking yourself that if offered the chance to take NZT yourself, would you do it?  I myself probably would…

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

20. March 2011 by Darren Goodhart
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