UK Release date: 1st August 2011
Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth
Running time: 100mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
What would you do if you were able to access the 80 per cent of the brain you never use? That’s the question posed by Neil Burger’s drug-infused thriller, a lightweight ride that occasionally touches on greatness. Bradley Cooper takes on lead duties, including a haircut even Nicholas Cage would be ashamed of. Joining him is acting legend Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish and an unrecognisable turn from Anna Friel. Unrecognisable by the fact she’s so damn ugly.
Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie Morra, a struggling writer whose girlfriend has left him, he’s suffering from a bad case of writers block and his creative prowess has followed her out the door. Fate lends a helping hand when an old friend slips him a pill, and all of a sudden life takes an unexpected upward turn. Eddie transforms from trashy loser to unrivalled genius, and it’s an overnight hit he can’t afford to miss. He has an answer for everything, learns entire languages in minutes, goes all ‘Raymond Babbitt’ at the poker table, and sleeps with pretty much every woman he lays eyes on. He also gets a haircut - my girlfriend will be pleased.
Eddie cruises to the top of the financial world, and draws the attention of business mogul Carl Van Loon (De Niro), who sees the enhanced version of Eddie as a tool to making billions. Unfortunately for Eddie, a return to reality could prove to be fatal. Haunted by blackouts, drug pushers and smack head ex-girlfriends, life takes a brutal turn as the side effects threaten to derail his meteoric rise to power. It’s a high concept thriller then - jacked up on jazzy visuals and inimitable flair - but just like the experimental drug it pushes, the unavoidable comedown threatens to dampen the good times had.
The problem with high concept thrillers is that at some point the filmmakers have to make good on their early promise. It’s a tough nut to crack because you’re never going to please everybody, and as is often the case, disappointment walks hand in hand with lofty ambitions. Limitless suffers from the genius of its construction, the first two acts open the doorway to a world of imagination and possibility, but the final act resorts to familiar themes and action thriller cliché. It’s a crushing blow from a certain standpoint, a sign that the filmmakers didn’t really know where to go, but that’s not to say it’s a waste of your time.
Bradley Cooper has long been deserving of a leading role, and the character of Eddie Morra suits him down to the ground. Slightly kooky, with a likeable screen presence and effortlessly charming, it’s only when he’s asked to play unhinged that he doesn’t truly convince. It’s great to see De Niro making ‘proper’ films again too, and his is a solid supporting turn with a sprinkling of stand out moments. The girls don’t really get a look in though, especially Anna Friel as Eddie’s dried up ex, which is a real shame because her story arc proves the most enticing. Abbie Cornish does as much as she can with a thankless task - as the long suffering on/off girlfriend - but it’s a role that leads nowhere fast.
Limitless is at its best when the characters are having fun, the opening party scenes are a blast and Neil Burger overloads the film with stylish camera angles and zippy montages. When it comes time to embrace the darker side of the force, Limitless loses its way, resorting to predictable turns and over familiar themes. Considering the quirky nature of the set up, you’ll probably wonder how screenwriter Leslie Dixon or novelist Alan Glynn didn’t come to the table with a stronger hand, but the outcome disappoints with its lack of surprise and intrigue.
A promising start for Cooper, Limitless crackles along at an electrifying pace, fast enough to forget the inconsistencies and just enjoy the ride. It might not stand up to repeat viewing, but it’s still a lot of fun, and Burger’s thriller shares a lot in common with the drug it pushes. At its peak, Limitless is one hell of a rush, but the inevitable comedown will leave you feeling empty inside, longing for the next quick fix.