|Image: Paramount Pictures|
There was something appealing about Limitless’ promotional campaign. Bright and breezy, without any sense of pretension, and promising the long-awaited minting of Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, The A-Team) as leading man material. Only the ghostly spectre of Robert De Niro behind Cooper was a warning sign, with the actor apparently only signing on to what can best be described as “disappointing failures”. So what did we get?
Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a scruffy struggling writer who’s way behind on his word count. His beautiful and successful ex Lindy (Abbie Cornish) offers pity, but little else. Out of nowhere, an old acquaintace slips him a clear pill, NZT, which unlocks all his potential. Eddie finishes his book, then turns to the stock market. He even wins Lindy back. Side-effects? Vomiting, headaches, black-outs, and worse...
Limitless is a solid choice for Cooper’s first move to marquee status. He’s involved as executive producer here, and reportedly convinced De Niro to join the cast. Eddie Morra is a role that gives Cooper the chance to go from dishevelled to stylish, twitchy to confident, smooth to strung-out. To the actor’s credit, the film’s general success owes a lot to his anchoring performance. Wish-fulfilment films don’t work if the filmmakers don’t sell you on the main character at the start and Cooper convinces through each stage, keeping the audience on board even as Eddie makes some questionable choices.
The main problem with Limitless, based on the novel “The Gray Fields” by Alan Glynn, is its lack of coherency. Plot lines and characters are picked up and dropped without warning. Cornish (Bright Star) deserves far more than she’s given, although she does have a nail-biting chase sequence that bodes well for her turn in the upcoming Sucker Punch. But her total screen time dwarves that of Anna Friel (Land of the Lost), who pops up in a promising supporting role only to promptly disappear. And the many subplots, involving Eddie’s black-outs, shadowy figures in overcoats, and a mobster loan shark? They’re thrown together, forgotten, and then revived. Meanwhile, De Niro (though he gives a solid performance) has little to do but add a bit of menace and carry another subplot. There’s a sense that director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) and writer Leslie Dixon wanted to get as much of the book in as possible, but the result is a bit of a muddle.
Visually, Burger is on top form here. His camera flits around NYC with some really striking results. When Eddie is driven into a blackout state the photography moves through a technique oddly reminiscent of Google Street View until you feel like your own head might just explode. There’s a welcome sense of humour throughout proceedings, from Eddie’s honest narration to the Oldboy-esque subway fight sequence. And despite the fact that most of the film is fairly predictable, the script has a few enjoyably unpleasant tricks up its sleeve.
When all is said and done, Limitless is still very enjoyable. It benefits from a strong performance from Cooper and, crucially, not taking itself too seriously. It’s clever enough to keep your interest and to keep a sense of humour, but not clever enough to keep you guessing.
A well-directed, well-acted, entertaining thriller that’s got too many ideas to fit into the running time.