Film Review: Limitless

Limitless | Director Neil Burger | Score: 5.9

Actors who become famous primarily for comedy roles face a bit of a dilemma if they ever want to expand their horizons and attempt dramas. They can opt for the Serious-Artist-At-Work route and choose something so dark and tragic you can’t help but awed by their incredible artistic majesty — known as the “Jim Carrey Maneuver”; they can go for more of a tempered drama; or they can opt for an action flick that doesn’t dispel the idea that they are popcorn entertainers at heart, but can give it to you more ways than one. Or, as the case here with Bradley Cooper, they can go an ingeniously different route: A dramatic action picture that uses as its lynchpin a pill that turns the protagonist from a mildly comic bum into a visionary leader of mankind.

The reason this option works so well is because it enables the viewer’s perception of said actor to radically change in a way that exactly mirrors that of the audience’s understanding of the film’s protagonist, whose voice we here in VO immediately after the credits roll. Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a heaping mess of a writer with an actual “book contract” he talks endlessly about but no book anywhere near in sight in his shambling, unorganized mind. After a chance meeting with his old brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), involved in a shady kind of pharmaceutical outfit, he’s suddenly given a chance to change his life: A pill that enables Eddie to utilize 100% of his brain’s potential, allowing him to recall with lightening precision almost everything he’s ever seen or read and make incredible leaps and tangents of logic to arrive at startling conclusions. Once hooked, Eddie returns to Vernon’s apartment for more, but discovers him murdered and his place ransacked. Thinking quickly, he finds the full stash of the drug, dubbed MDT, and starts popping them like Skittles. In short order he becomes an incredibly successful day-trader, attracting the interest of a host of very powerful men, including Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who wants very much to harness Eddie’s talents for his own use.

Director Neil Burger employs a style that can only be described as Danny Boyle-esque, all hyper-kinetic cutaways, fish eye lenses and weird, color-dampening filters, to create the ping ponging back-and-forth energy that the surprisingly appealing script by veteran Leslie Dixon (from the novel by Alan Glynn) demands. The film might have its share of holes and inconsistencies, but it’s so much damn fun, you hardly notice. First and foremost, however, this is Cooper’s film to win or lose, and he acquits himself more than admirably — even in the beginning of the film, with him wearing a dubious down-and-out style wig, you never take your eyes off him. Indeed, perhaps the most surprising elements here are the scenes between Cooper and De Niro. Admittedly, Bob is more or less coasting in this one, refusing to throw anything near his high heater, but it’s incredible to watch just how much Cooper owns their scenes together. He’s not nowhere near early De Niro levels of course, but he’s definitely a star in full ascension. “Limitless,” indeed.

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Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.comand his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success.  You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.

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