Movie Review: Limitless (2011)

Bradley Cooper in Limitless
Photo: Relativity Media

The theory is to say as humans we use only 10% of our brain. Limitless is a bit kinder and doubles that number, and even though the idea humans use only a fraction of their brain has been proven to be a myth that doesn’t make the idea of a super pill that allows us to put our brains to better use any less fascinating. In fact, it’s the reason I was drawn to this film.

Limitless works on the theory that one single pill, referred to as NZT, can give someone the ability to access all areas of their brain at once. Your memory is heightened, you’re able to take in and retain information at a faster pace, thoughts come together quicker and as Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) says, even “math becomes useful.”

Eddie’s an aspiring author plagued by writer’s block and he’s continuing to fall farther and farther behind, and to pile on the stress, his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) has left him. But his “luck” is about to change.

A chance meeting with a drug dealing, ex brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth) ends with him in possession of one pill of NZT. With his troubles mounting and seemingly no reason not to take the risk, he pops the pill and a whole new world opens before his eyes. He cleans himself up, quickly hammers out several pages of his book and within 24 hours wants more. Just like any drug this one is quite addictive.

Cooper was a solid choice for the slightly smarmy, slightly charming lead. He has an air of confidence about him that works for the role. I can’t say dressing him like a homeless person does enough to convince me he’s down on his luck, but once Eddie gets himself together Cooper is a perfect fit.

Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish both have limited roles, the former as a wizened corporate big wig taking advantage of Eddie’s “skills” as he packages a major corporate merger. Then there’s the rather cliched Russian goon that stumbles upon Eddie’s stash and after he gets a taste causes his own share of trouble.

There’s an exaggerated pace to Limitless. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) rarely gives you a moment to breathe and twice utilizes a trippy, mildly disorienting forward motion camera movement sending us through the streets of New York in an absolute flash. The first instance comes during the credit sequence and once was definitely enough as I thought I may lose my dinner the second time around.

This is a dream scenario kind of a film. A “What would you do if _______?” kind of picture and it’s easy to appreciate it as one. And while it’s no major achievement in filmmaking, Limitless never really gives in to cliched Hollywood morals. Amidst the plot silliness, in the end it gives us a character we can choose to either love or hate. I like that.


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