Preceded by previews that seem redundant and showy and boasting a plot line that’s definitely been done before, “Limitless” encourages the audience to set its expectations low and brace for a predictable action flick filled with flamboyant and drug- trippy cinematic techniques.
But instead, “Limitless” puts on quite a show and meshes a fascinating concept and plot with a fresh, and just plain good, cast. The film investigates the lure of having lots of money, as well as the strong addictions that can be formed in its name. Bradley Cooper (“The A-Team”) stars as main character Eddie Morra, who believably – yes, believably – stumbles upon a drug allowing him full access to all parts of his brain, giving him the ability to recall memories, opening doors to seemingly boundless knowledge.
It would be positively silly if a movie allowed this kind of ridiculous drug to exist without throwing its consequences into question, so of course “Limitless” sends Eddie on an adventure, taking him from the position of would-be writer to Wall Street mogul to New York state senator.
With this in mind, it must be noted that the film surprisingly progresses without provoking too many cries of “Yeah, right!” from a potentially skeptical audience. Although Eddie’s climb to the top may be unrealistic, his sympathetic character is simply too likeable for any of that to matter. Cooper’s charismatic performance – along with his ability to look equally credible down in the dumps or Wall Street chic – lends a serious authenticity to the story that encourages the audience to root for him and to revel with him in his successes.
Whenever drug taking is a central plot device in a film, it runs the risk of turning into an unpleasant trip for everyone involved, creating a physically intolerable movie-watching experience. Directors are tempted to force the audience into this discomfort of the drug trip scenario and tend to do so using gaudy camera and editing techniques.
However, the director of “Limitless,” Neil Burger (“The Lucky Ones”), excels at making these sequences not uncomfortable but riveting through his use of “trombone” shots, simultaneously zooming in and tracking out the camera. Burger uses this technique in the introductory sequence, moving the audience through the streets of New York City – as an exhilarating omnitheater film can make the audience feel as if they are flying over the Himalayas – foreshadowing the drug use that will be featured throughout the film.
Voice-over narration by Eddie and unobtrusive special effects consistently add an element of fun and comedic relief to “Limitless” and make the film stand out against the potentially monotonous backdrop of action/thriller filmmaking. Take, for example, a scene in which Eddie is making his first moves in the stock trading business. The tiles of his ceiling begin to spin like the departures board in a train station, displaying the many numbers and letters that are spinning through his head. Helping the audience to visualize what is going on in Eddie’s razor-sharp mind, the sequence uses this technique without being overly distracting.
At various moments, the camera also flips over Eddie’s head, turning the story world upside down. Although this may sound off-putting to the audience, it matches perfectly with the tone of the film and blends in with the generally stylized filming techniques.
While these special effects, and the superb acting of Cooper, work to the benefit of “Limitless,” the same cannot be said for the screenplay itself – specifically the rather ridiculous happy ending. Although the conclusion is certainly satisfying, it is too convenient and easy a solution for such a complicated problem and concept.
“Limitless” also features Robert De Niro (“Little Fockers”) as one of the main characters, and although he is not introduced until almost halfway through the film, he’s electric once on screen. As a character by the name of Carl Van Loon, De Niro struts his gangster stuff, bringing to mind some of his more memorable roles, the likes of which haven’t been seen since 1995’s “Casino.”
A lesson can be learned from the unexpected gratification of “Limitless”: if expectations are set low enough, anyone – or any film – can exceed them. However, this movie does more than just step over the bar; it leaps over it and pushes us to wonder how we would respond to the film’s charmingly cheesy tagline: “What if a pill could make you rich and powerful”?
3.5 out of 5 stars