Bradley Cooper has accomplished what many other professionals havent: he’s managed to avoid becoming a typecast. His hilarious turn as Phil in The Hangover could easily have set him on a path of roles in comedy movies that steadily declined in humour. His next big role though was as Face in The A Team, and although there were a few quick one liners, his on screen charm and charisma certified his place as an actor who could be a credible leading man. Limitless is the picture where he gets his chance, and although it’s not a particularly memorable one, it’s certainly a promising start to his career.
Eddie Morra (Cooper) is a failing writer who has a book contract, but no ideas or words on the page. His relationship is in tatters and he’s barely scraping by on his income. By chance, he bumps into an old acquaintance who introduces him to an apparently legal, FDA approved drug called NZT.
The effects of the drug are simple: it allows the taker to open their full minds potential. Instead of 20% of the brain being used for activities and tasks, 100% is utilized. This opens up a whole new world for Eddie and he blasts through writing his novel in four days, learns a new language and dominates the stock market. His success catches the eye of Carl Van Hoon (Robert De Niro), a wall street tycoon who sees potential in Morras skills. To maintain this knowledge though, he must take a pill daily and his excessive usage leads to rather worrying side effects. After another user warns him of the dangers of going cold turkey, (basically death) he frantically tries to discover the origins of the drug, whilst avoiding shady hit men who he owes money.
From the plot summary, the message that the movie is trying to convey pretty obvious: “Drugs are bad, kids! They ruin your life and as a result, an Eastern European Jason Statham will follow your every move. You’ll gain superpowers though, it’s not all doom & gloom.” Well that’s the message until the last 10 minutes, where it throws all morals out the window and actually glorifies drug use. It’s this finale that hurts Limitless the most, because before the final act it’s a solid and straightforward (though it tries to be thoughtful in places, but let’s face it: this is made for mainstream audiences) mystery/sci fi thriller. The climax is even more absurd, and feels like a totally different film. There are some interesting shots when Eddie is on the “high”, but the repetitive nature of these get irritating quickly. The contrasting colours of scenes work wonders though, and convey the many states of Morras perfectly. Greys and light blues are prominent in the scenes where he’s off the drug, but the screen bursts into life with vibrancy and energy when he’s taken one.
As previously mentioned, this is Coopers first film as a leading man. So to have a name as big as De Niro’s attached, it would’ve been easy for the attention to have been snatched away from him. This is not the case and Robert plays second fiddle, respecting that this isn’t his movie as he did in Robert Rodriguez’ grindhouse homage Machete. He’s not faultless here though, and more effort could have been made to put across the impression of a “take no crap” business mogul. But that’s only minor; it’s just good to see the legend back on screen in a role that doesn’t demean his stature as one of Hollywoods Greatest. We’re looking at you Little Fockers… There’s absolutely no need to mention his love interest, because the screenwriters obviously felt that way too. Apart from a laughable chase scene, she’s only really there to remind the audience what a screw up Eddie is.
Despite its worrying number of glaringly obvious plot holes, Limitless is a surprisingly easy to follow take on a theme that has been explored countless times in far greater depth. Cooper is a believable lead, and successfully exhibits the many emotions needed for a character that goes through various moods. If it wasn’t for the subplots, the narrative wouldn’t be as engaging, not for the 90 minute runtime anyway. Overall though, it raises more questions than it answers but the overall concept should be enough for the question of “what would I do if I was him?” to arise in your head.