Of all the things a person could be addicted to, success might be one of the worst as evidenced by Neil Burger’s latest film. In Limitless, success comes in the form of a mysterious pill known as NZT, which allows the user of the wonderdrug to use the power of the human mind to it’s fullest. Let’s forget for a second that the idea that humans only use 10% of their brain is a widely disproved myth, and just go with the film for what it is: a cracking good B-movie with some genuinely interesting insight despite being patently implausible.
In the midst of a deep depression and a chronic case of laziness, writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) runs into his drug dealing former brother in-law (Johnny Whitworth) who turns him onto the clear little pill that will be the solution to all his problems. Within 24 hours of taking the drug for the first time, Eddie has already completed half a novel and sweet talked his way out of paying his overdue rent by offering his landlord’s wife advice on how to write her next paper for law school. After taking the drug repeatedly, he is able to get his life back on track by playing the stock market to the tune of $2.3 million in two weeks getting the attention of Wall Street power broker Carl Van Loon (played by Robert DeNiro, who thankfully breaks his streak of appearing in terrible movies here). Unfortunately, side effects may include shakes, sweats, blackouts, jealousy, and drawing the unwanted attention of a Russian loan shark you borrowed money from.
On the surface, Limitless might appear to be an indictment of the pharmaceutical industry and the promise that a single pill could make one’s problems melt away, but really the film has more interesting things to say about how people can become more addicted to the adulation success brings than the money it brings. Eddie seems more turned on by how people look up to him when he is on NZT than the toys his new found success can buy him. Cooper plays Eddie perfectly and anyone who doubts his ability to be a leading man does not need to look any further than his scenes alongside his estranged girlfriend, played by Abbie Cornish. As Eddie, Cooper shows how one can be simultaneously confident, calculating, and completely scared out of his mind.
The film is not without it’s problems, and most of them come in the ridiculously violent third act, which feels rushed and has a final sequence that, while satisfying to watch and ambiguous without being obtuse, feels curiously like a last second reshoot. Still, Burger directs with a real sense of style and urgency and Leslie Dixon’s script is refreshingly one step ahead of the viewer at all times. Limitless is thoroughly entertaining for those who have their minds switched on or off.
Andrew Parker is a Toronto-based writer, critic, and filmmaker.