© 2011 Ray Wong
Based on Alan Glynn's novel, which is an updated version of Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon, Limitless is a glossy, high-concept thriller that examines the power of the mind and how little we're equipped psychologically to deal with such power.
Eddie (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling novelist who has sunk deep into depression. He hasn't written a word on his novel, and his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) breaks up with him -- at least until he pulls himself together. By chance, Eddie bumps into his ex-brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth). Eager to help, Vern tells Eddie about a special pill that can unlock the full power of one's brain. With nothing to lose, Eddie takes it and soon discovers a whole new world where he knows and understands everything. He has access to every piece of memory, however small and insignificant, and he can learn anything with lightning speed. The only problem? The effect of the pill only lasts a few hours, and then Eddie is back to being the schmuck that he is.
Hooked on the drug, Eddie would do anything for Vern. Unfortunately, the drug isn't exactly legal, and Vern is killed by someone who also wants to get their hands on the pills. But lucky for Eddie, he finds Vern's stash first. With ample supply, Eddie starts to take the pills regularly, sometimes multiple doses in a single day. He feels invincible and limitless. He finishes his novel in four days. Math becomes useful and soon he's one of the most successful day traders in New York. Eddie also realizes he has more important things to do than being a writer. He starts to explore his options.
Even though Eddie is super smart now, it doesn't mean he won't do anything stupid. He makes the mistake of borrowing money from a loan shark, Gennady (Andrew Howard), and then forgets to pay the thug back. When Gennady knows about the pill, he wants it, too. Eddie also realizes the drug has many side effects, including losing track of time and pieces of his memory. Without the drug, his body crashes and goes through withdrawal that can eventually kill him. The drug now becomes a liability. Eddie can't live, literally, without it, but his stash is dwindling quickly. What is he going to do?
Bradley Cooper (A-Team) has quickly emerged as the new leading man in the past few years. The pretty-boy actor has the advantage because he can also act. Cooper is in great form, here, and he carries the movie smartly: he's in almost every scene. He's believable as the downtrodden writer, and he's believable as the man on top of the world.
Robert De Niro (Little Fockers) is at his best when he plays hard, ruthless men. His character, a financial tycoon, is such a man and it fits him like a glove. He doesn't have a lot of screen time, but when he's on, he steals the show. De Niro and Cooper also play well together. I'd be interested to see them costarring again.
Abbie Cornish (Bright Star) has a minor role as Eddie's girlfriend, but she makes it work despite the limitation of the script (more on that later). Andrew Howard (Pig) has a great time playing the bad guy. Granted, his portrayal is rather cliched, but it's a fun, over-the-top character nonetheless. Anna Friel (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) is good in her minor role as Eddie's ex-wife, who holds an important piece of information. Johnny Whitworth (Locked In) shines brief and bright as Eddie's drug-dealing ex-BIL.
Written by Leslie Dixon (The Heartbreak Kid), the screenplay is taut, tight, and well constructed. It has all the sizzle and trimmings of a suspense-thriller. Normally I don't like prologues that include scenes from later in the film (basically the first half of the movie is all flashback, then), but in this case, it works. The pacing is excellent, and the plot is interesting.
That said, the plot does have plenty of holes, and some scenes are rather ridiculous and contrived. For example, there's a subplot involving Lindy, and how Eddie is putting her in danger. That doesn't really work. I wonder why no one, during production, ever told them, "This scene is ridiculous and dumb." There are also many cliched moments that may have worked in this movie simply because it's a thriller. Let's face it, it's a genre that tolerates cliches.
Neil Burger's (The Illusionist) direction is crisp and excellent. Burger is a visual artist, and that talent is front and center in this production. The movie is visually stunning and arresting. Burger employs some eye-popping visual effects, including a wonderful camerawork of zipping through New York's streets, that would delight moviegoers. His style is slick, sophisticated, and relentless. High energy. And that style fits the storytelling perfectly.
Limitless is a handsome, glossy, visually pleasing production. It has an interesting story, and an interesting, if not entirely likable, protagonist. It has great tension, suspense, and thrills. The acting is good, as well. If only the writing is a bit tighter with its holes firmly plugged, the success of the movie could have been limitless.
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth
Director: Neil Burger
Writers: Leslie Dixon (based on Alan Glynn's novel)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence, disturbing images, sexuality and language
Running Time: 105 minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 7.8 out of 10