Film Review: ‘Limitless’


Based on Alex Glynn’s 2001 novel The Dark Fields, Limitless (2011) tells the story of Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), a down-and-out writer who’s suffering chronic writer’s block. Eddie believes his life is falling apart but this all changes when he bumps into a friend who introduces him to the experimental drug ‘NZT’.

The drug allows Eddie to use 100% of his brain, enabling him to recall everything he has ever read, heard, or seen, and he uses this knowledge to become highly successful in the financial world. Everything seems to be going right for Eddie; he rekindles a relationship with girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), attracts the attention of business mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) and lives a life of ostentatious luxury.

Oh, but how naïve Eddie is, because like all Class A drugs, NZT comes with its ecstatic highs and lousy lows – here one of the side effects being that if you stop “dropping” you die; an incredibly awkward proposition, especially when your stash is running low. Eddie endures the comedown from hell; paranoia, memory-loss, lack of sleep, evil Russian hitmen – a junkie concoction that in comparison makes Charlie Sheen seem like Justin Bieber. With his life in jeopardy and the drug’s brutal side effects taking their toll, the film draws to a close with Eddie trying almost anything to avoid being assassinated.

First things first, Limitless thinks it’s a lot cleverer than it actually is. Do not be fooled by its nauseating visuals, or aimless gimmicky aesthetics, the foundation of a truly great film has always been its screenplay and in the case of Limitless you have a text littered with plot holes and weak narrative passages a la The Butterfly Effect (2004). From its highly unoriginal media res opening to its beguiling denouement, this film is all style and no substance and ultimately should be deemed as missable popcorn schlock.

In many ways the film is reminiscent of 2006’s ironic action flick Crank, particularly it’s sharp tone and shifting pace. Also, like Crank, Limitless is extremely intertextual (an example being a cheap Matrix (1999) joke – several years passed its sell by date I must add), but where this film tries to play out with a quirky edge, it unfortunately is served severely overcooked, particularly discouraging seeing that Neil Burger is a talented director whose résumé includes the acclaimed, yet greatly undervalued The Illusionist (2006).

Despite such overriding negativity, it should be noted that the majority of performances were solid, although by no means spellbinding; Cooper performs admirably confirming his reputation as a rising star, and Abbie Cornish proves to be a developing talent as well, shortly arriving on screen again in Zack Snyder’s upcoming action-fantasy Sucker Punch (2011), Robert De Niro, on the other hand, adds another pointless performance to his slowly eroding career.

On the whole, Limitless unfolds into an incongruent mess, and like its protagonist, has severely depleted serotonin levels by the time the credits roll. In saying this though, it isn’t the worst film in the world, far from it, and undeniably it is never irksome, instead posing bitter frustration more rather than boredom. But for those who would regard it as sheer entertainment I say this to you; Strictly Come Dancing is classed as entertainment, but everyone really knows that it’s shit. Ultimately forgettable, Limitless was ambitious to say the least – perhaps next time the filmmakers should try to keep their perceived limits.

Stephen Leach