Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Director Neil Burger made one of my favorite debut films in the last 10 years, INTERVIEW WITH THE ASSASSIN. Find it and watch it-- it will freak you out and impress you greatly. After close-but-no-cigar attempts at telling stories that certainly no one else was telling at the time (THE ILLUSIONIST and THE LUCKY ONES), Burger has finally made a film that I found came the closest to capturing what he accomplished with ASSASSIN. From the novel by Alan Glynn, adapted by Leslie Dixon, LIMITLESS captures that great sense of paranoia and tension that populated Burger's first movie, this time in the form of a world where a drug allows people to maximize the power of their brain to such a degree that there is literally nothing they can't do in terms of learning and thinking.
Bradley Cooper (also listed as an executive producer on the film) plays struggling writer Eddie Morra, a divorced man, who has a looming deadline with his publisher and not a word written on his novel. When he bumps into his drug-dealer ex-brother-in-law, he is given a pill called NZT and before he knows it, he's banging out the first several chapters of his book and knows exactly how to read people enough to impress/seduce them without even trying. By unlocking your brain's potential, every stray memory of everything you have ever heard or seen is at your fingertips. But the effects only last about a day, and once the ability is gone, it's gone--until you take another pill.
Through a turn I don't want to ruin, Eddie gets his hands on several hundred pills, enough to finish his book, learn a language a day, and analyze stock market trends to see the patterns and make himself a nice chunk of change. His Wall Street dealings attract the attention of Carl Van Loom (Robert De Niro), one of the most powerful businessmen in the world, who asks Eddie to help him research and bargain what could be the biggest deal ever. Eddie is also trying to win back his ex-girlfriend (Abbie Cornish), who left him back during his bout with writer's block.
I especially enjoyed the scenes with Cooper in gross-dude mode, with shaggy hair and ratty clothes. I feel like recently I've seen a bit too much of him in variations of his cool-guy look that he had in THE HANGOVER. But the transformation is fairly convincing in LIMITLESS. The paranoia aspect comes in as both a side effect of the drug and from very real sources, like a loan shark that wants to kill Eddie for not paying him back or Van Loon checking up on Eddie's background. It's also very possible that during Eddie's increasing blackouts, he murdered someone, so there are police looking for him. The swirling mess of Eddie's life is great stuff.
I've never been quite sure what to think of Cooper as an actor. But I'm also not sure he's been challenged quite like he is in LIMITLESS, and this film perhaps tests his abilities more so than he's been tested before. I'm not sure Cornish--looking more than ever like a young Nicole Kidman--gets a fair shot at really being more than a pretty face in this movie, but she does get one juicy sequence where she gets to pop a smart pill and outwit some baddies out to get her. With only three or four scenes in the movie, De Niro plays Van Loon as an intimidating force without being overtly threatening. It's a great, restrained part that is still downright scary at times. Cooper and De Niro have a confrontation scene at the end of the movie that is so perfect, it's by far the best scene in the film.
Where LIMITLESS falls down somewhat has nothing to do with performance or story; it has to do with Burger's standard flaw: over-explaining everything. There's nothing left to chance. Even the dumbest audience member is going to understand every twist and turn in the movie, if Burger has his way. No viewer left behind. There are a couple of scenes where it gets downright annoying. And this isn't a little, dismissible thing in my mind; it's a near-fatal flaw at times that really keeps me from being fully behind this film. Still, the good outweighs the bad in LIMITLESS, and I am recommending it for the solid performances and a story that kept me guessing just where the hell it was going. There are some great revelation moments in the movie concerning just how wide spread the NZT epidemic is, and for those moments in particular, I give the movie points. All in all, I had a great deal of fun with this one, even if I felt like Burger was pushing a little too hard at times.
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