Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is, in many respects, a loser. He has a book contract, but he hasn’t committed one word to the page, and the odds are, he won’t be any time soon. His first marriage ended in divorce, and his current relationship to Lindy (Abbie Cornish), an up-and-coming editor, is coming to a close. He’s a slob and, quite frankly, looks like an alcoholic, drug addicted homeless man. But his luck is about to change. Walking down the street at 2 p.m., he runs into Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), his former brother-in-law, a guy who used to deal drugs. Having not seen each other in about a decade, the men head to a nearby diner and “catch up.” During their conversation, Vernon reveals to Eddie that he’s still dealing, but this time it’s legit. He’s working for a pharmaceutical company that has created a miracle drug called NZT. What does it do? You know how we only use 20 percent of our brains? Well, this drug gives you access to the full 100 percent. Before he leaves, Vernon gives Eddie a sample pill; “on the house.” Initially, Eddie wants no part of this $800, soon to be FDA-approved, pill. But he soon changes his mind. And how. After he pops the translucent tablet, he has clarity unlike he has ever experienced. It’s as if someone throws on a switch, and everything is illuminated. (Cinematically, everything is brighter, sharper, and more vibrant.) Eddie can focus, he knows exactly what needs to be done, and most importantly, his abilities and intellect are Limitless, hence the film’s title.
As soon as the drug wears off, Eddie knows that he needs more, and he desperately contacts Vernon at his apartment. The minute Vernon opens the door, Eddie knows that something isn’t right. Vernon has been beat up by someone. Driven more by the desire for the pills than he is for his own safety, Eddie runs a few errands for his former brother-in-law. When he comes back to the apartment, Vernon is dead. Panicking, Eddie calls the police. While he’s waiting for them to show up, it dawns on him: He has to find those pills. He does, and soon, the drugs are helping him to become a new Eddie Morra, a brilliant conversationalist, a financial wizard, a chick magnet, and a best-selling author. There’s a downside to the drugs – there always is – if someone stops taking them, one experiences serious, life-threatening side effects. Not only that, but they are highly addictive, and because they aren’t readily available for purchase, others are willing to do whatever it takes to get Eddie’s stash.
Based on Alan Glynn’s 2002 novel, The Dark Fields, and adapted for the screen by Leslie Dixon, Limitless is a bit reminiscent of Charly a.k.a. Flowers for Algernon. For those unfamiliar with this gem, it’s the story about a man who is woefully underdeveloped mentally, the titular Charlie Gordon. In the Daniel Keyes novel, he undergoes an experimental brain operation and his IQ, which starts out around 68, expands exponentially, taking him into the realm of genius. But … well, nothing lasts and the ending is a real tearjerker. In Limitless, the lead character is average, suffering from the same sorts of things that plague the rest of us: He can’t focus; can’t get his shit together. The drug NZT catapults his intelligence into the realm of super genius – he has a four-digit IQ. He can figure out complex mathematical algorithms, recall anything he has ever seen, heard or read; he can become fluent in any language just by passively listening to it, he can even crank out a brilliant novel in days … in many ways, he becomes a machine. (By the end, he’s practically a walking computer.) Probably because this is my ultimate fantasy, and because the film gives nods to The Matrix, Limitless is a five-star, near perfect film for me. Take a pill and become the ultimate you. Would you do it? I’m not one for drugs, but I think even with those side effects, I would. Can you imagine the possibilities? Limitless does imagine the great and not-so great ramifications, and I appreciate that it never becomes sloppy. Often when these types of films appear in the cinemaplex, there is a moment when Joe Moviewatcher discovers that “Wait, if he’s so smart, wouldn’t he …” and, for some reason, the screenwriter is either too dumb to realize the same point or is too lazy to consider it. Not so in Limitless. All bases are covered. Even the ending didn’t go the way I thought it would.
In the last few years, Cooper has gone from relatively unknown indie actor to TV go-to guy (Alias; Kitchen Confidential) to big budget Hollywood star and heart throb who has been linked to Jennifer Aniston and Renee Zellweger. I’ve liked him since I saw him in the 2008 straight-to-second-run-cinema horror film Midnight Meat Train (great flick, by the way). I also enjoyed his swagger in The Hangover (2009). Most of his films, though, are in rom-com territory (Failure to Launch; All About Steve; He’s Just Not That Into You), and that means I haven’t and won’t be seeing them. Therefore, my opinion of his body of work is pretty limited. (I did see his horrible pairing with Zellweger in the highly disappointing horror film Case 39. He was the best thing in it.) That said, he’s phenomenal in Limitless. He’s utterly convincing as a fast-talking, financial whiz. And I applaud the fact that he has to sound fluent in several languages – French, Italian, Mandarin or Cantonese, and Russian – and he does. I’m pretty sure that the Academy will overlook this film, but hopefully someone else will recognize this performance and give him an award. Cornish, who was great in Sucker Punch, does well with her very small role, as does Robert DeNiro, who plays the financial kingpin Carl Van Loon. DeNiro has been sleepwalking through a lot of films lately, so it’s good to see him earning his paycheck again.
I watch a lot of films, and sadly, I would rate about 90 percent of them on a scale that runs anywhere from mediocre to pure shit. Naturally, then, it’s refreshing to find a gem like Limitless. These are the films that restore my faith in the medium. As soon as it ended, I decided that I would have to see it again before it heads to DVD, and once it assumes that format, I will be adding it to my collection; Blu-Ray, of course. It’s really a smart, occasionally funny, well-acted, beautifully filmed flick. Do yourself a favor and check it out.