Movie Review: Limitless

Directed by Neil Burger
Starring Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Johnny Whitworth, Robert De Niro
Release date: March 18, 2011

The unattainable, no matter what “it” is, always has the tendency to attract us. Shiny new things demand our attention, as well as power, authority, money, and freedom. All of this casts an unshakable spell on us as we fluently follow it while we strain to attain the unattainable. We are creatures of instinct built around our primitive behavior and desires, and it is only acceptable that we want more. But what may eclipse all of this is a horrible fierceness found in our hunger and urgency to attain a mark in history: to leave some evidence of our own existence in this world is what drives some men into mad oblivion. Our main character, we first see him standing on the balcony ledge of a New York City penthouse, contemplates this ancient fear that drives him to paranoia and into the abyss of avarice. Limitless, directed by Neil Burger and scripted by Leslie Dixon from the Alan Glynn novel, addresses this fear without due care, severely lacking depth and emotion.

Our balcony man goes by the name of Eddie Mora (Bradley Cooper). We first see him as a suicidal man willing to plunge countless stories into the hard concrete. He is elegantly attired in a designer suit, has a handsome haircut, and a splendid tan. Resemblance of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho is evident. But why would such a man like Eddie contemplate suicide? Burger knows we will ask this question. What a smart man. So he allows Mora to narrate the film and he brings us back to the beginning of his once depressing life as a recently divorced struggling writer living in a dilapidated New York City tenement, promising to bring us back to the point of his potential suicide.
As this disheveled writer wrestles with completing the first page of his first novel, Eddie seemingly has no promising future. His current girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), a successful businesswoman, has just dumped him because of his lack of motivation. With long-hair unkempt, a ragged beard, and dressing like any writer who is struggling with severe writer’s block, he frequents the many ramshackle bars the city has to offer. He is searching, wishing, hoping for anything to ignite that spark in his head (is there even a potential spark to be ignited?). But after roaming innumerable hours in the streets you’re bound to run into someone who can offer a helping hand. Enter his ex-brother-in-law (Johnny Whitworth). He offers Eddie a pill (which could be mistaken as looking like a contact lens) that hasn’t hit the market yet. It goes by the name of NZT. He promises Eddie that this pill works wonders. Eddie’s life has already hit rock bottom so what’s he have to lose? He downs the pill. Some minutes later Eddie sees the world in high-definition, finishes his book, knows absolutely everything, and has the capacity to get the full use out of his brain. Yes, no longer will he be stuck using twenty percent of his brain like the rest of the populace. Now he will get the full 100 percent. Now maybe he can even get Lindy back. 
With this limitless supply of knowledge he decides to test the waters of stockbroking. Whoop-de-doo! Dominating the charts and making more money than anyone, Eddie attracts the attention of big-time hedge fund manager/mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro in a small but potent role) but also attracts attention from the Russian mob supposedly who wants his supply of NZT.
Delicacy isn’t what Burger succeeds at here. His The Illusionist, about a Viennese magician looking for love, was a gorgeous film full of delicacy and nuance. In Limitless, as the exasperating opening credits indicate, outrageousness is glaringly vivid, suggesting a psychedelic and hyperkinetic mood that never appeals to us no matter how cool it tires to be. Burger’s extensive reach to make us live vicariously through Eddie Mora proves to be too flashy and nausea-inducing as his camera zooms in, turns and tilts throughout the streets of New York City. Mora’s obsession with wealth is conventional. The film could’ve covered much more rather than a promotion of avarice and the good life. Though there is a tiny dose of affective satire.
Seeing Eddie as a struggling writer is compelling. Cooper, in his first major role, succeeds at showing us the man struggling and the man with riches. His acting is fairly believable. But Burger’s direction isn’t. He goes off the deep end and allows things to continually pile up, leading to a preposterous ending. The film’s plot is already an absurd premise, but Burger never tones the absurdity down to attain the slightest semblance of plausibility. And what are lost are limitless amounts of possibilities this film could have achieved.

Rating: **1/2 out of *****

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