When struggling author Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is rejected by girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), it comes on top of his writer's block. But then his ex-brother in law introduces Eddie to what he claims to be an approved but not yet released drug, NZT, a which makes him laser focused and more confident than any man alive. Everything Eddie's read, heard or seen is instantly organized in his brain and available to him. As he rises to the top of the financial world, he attracts the attention of business mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who sees Eddie as a way to make billions. But brutal side effects jeopardize Eddie's meteoric ascent. With a dwindling stash and a bunch of men who will eliminate him to get the drug, Eddie is running out of options.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's a half way interesting idea, a drug that releases all your subconscious knowledge, gained through formal learning and casual observation, and enables you to use the full potential of your brain, not just the 10% of it we seem to use. It also raises some really interesting questions, notably what the result of this rush of information may be and the use to which we might put it. The answer, of course, is greed, self aggrandisement and fantastic New York penthouse apartments.
This makes it seem more a wish fulfilment movie than a sci-fi essay of what if ... and the way Limitless is made it's a gee-whizz novelty movie along the lines of Inception, with great effects and some visual wows. And virtually no heart or soul.
What heart there is comes by way of Aussie actress Abbie Cornish as the smart and genuine girlfriend who leaves our hero, Eddie (Bradley Cooper) when she sees what a loser he is. After he's dosed up on the miracle drug NZT, courtesy ex brother in law sleazebag, his new persona brings her back. Silly girl, after all.
There are too many convenient transitions from tussle haired would-be writer to Wall Street whiz kid to take any of this seriously, but on its own terms (as a fickle, shallow and simplistic movie for thrillseekers) the movie makes all the right moves. What observations about human nature may be contained in the book are well and truly ignored. Director Neil Burger and writer Leslie Dixon throw everything else at the screen, to minimal effect.
Bradley Cooper does his best but is restricted by a lack of imagination, imprisoned by filmmaking derivatives and Robert De Niro is perfectly dull as the financial gorilla who is so smart he can see how smart Eddie is ... It all leaves me cold and careless, eventually losing interest even in the interesting idea. It's pulped into a bit of mush and the investments made on screen in the board rooms are not matched by the investment we make as audiences in our bored room.
Review by Louise Keller:
A high concept thriller with an interesting premise takes flight before it swirls into murky confusion and heads into preposterous territory. Based on Alan Glynn's novel The Dark Fields, the idea of a smart drug that allows us to use all our brain, instead of the 20% or so we use, has great appeal and the possibilities are endless. Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) has a cinematic vision that works - for a while. Jo Willems' cinematography captures amazing effects with its innovative design with fast-track lensing that almost requires anti-motion sickness pills, but after a while the effects, like Leslie Dixon's screenplay, becomes gimmicky.
It starts well, with a dizzying camera shot that whizzes at 90 degree angles from the heights of a skyscraper to the pavement, through the back windows of a string of cabs, along a sidewalk right into the heart of New York at night. It's not a beginning to forget. Nor are the circumstances that bring Bradley Cooper's deadbeat author with writer's block Eddie Morra to his mental peak. I love the effect of raining alphabets as the cogs in Eddie's brain start turning after he takes the shiny pill his sleazy ex-dealer ex-brother-in-law gives him. (How much worse could it get, he asks himself?) Next comes the fast-track piano lessons, speed-learning languages, kung-fu fighting and every little bit of information his brain had ever encountered.
By the time Eddie has increased his dose of the magic pill and has become a manic (and very rich) genius, things get out of control. But a few things don't gel. If Eddie is so smart, why does he borrow money from Gennady (Andrew Howard is great value), the low-life loan shark who will skin him alive if he doesn't pay up? And there's something missing in the relationship with financial king pin Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro, bland) and little for Abbie Cornish to do as Lindy except in one scene ending up on an ice rink in Central Park in an utterly ridiculous scenario. There are also plot flaws involving the health of those who take these magic NZT pills and an unresolved 18 hours of lost memory, but let's not be too pedantic.
For all its imperfections, there is entertainment value in Limitless, not the least being Bradley Cooper's engaging central performance. There's a twist but it's not what you think and the visuals are fabulous.
Published first in the Sun-Herald
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CAST: Bradley Cooper, Anna Friel, Abbie Cornish, Robert de Niro, Andrew Howard, Johnny Whitworth, Tomas Arana, Robert John Burke, Darren Goldstein, Ned Eisenberg
PRODUCER: Leslie Dixon, Scott Kroopf, Ryan Kavanaugh
DIRECTOR: Neil Burger
SCRIPT: Leslie Dixon (novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jo Willems
EDITOR: Tracy Adams, Naomi Geraghty
MUSIC: Paul Leonard-Morgan, Nico Muhly
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patrizia von Brandenstein
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 17, 2011