So, remember that Seinfeld episode where George had to give up sex for six weeks when his girlfriend got mono? Remember what happened? All of a sudden, he’s seeing things clearer, remembering things he’d forgotten, and he’s simultaneously solving a Rubik’s Cube, reading the Wall Street Journal, and blazing through Jeopardy! like a hot knife through butter. The secret was using the parts of his mind that had previously been pre-occupied with his endless pursuit of sex.
Well, the same thing happens to down-and-out loser Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) in the excellent thrill ride Limitless. Except Eddie uses a pill. And Kramer isn’t bursting into his friend’s apartment to drink his milk.
The bottom line is that Limitless works on so many levels– from the performances of Cooper, Robert De Niro, and Abbie Cornish, to the mind-bending direction by Neil Burger. It’s more than worth your time (and money), and even though the script has a couple gaping plot holes, heck– they’re forgivable considering the subject matter.
After a brief ‘how-did-I-get-here, well-let-me-tell-you’ scene, we flashback to meet pre-pill Morra. He looks homeless, he’s a struggling writer (struggling so much that he hasn’t written word one), and his girlfriend (Cornish) is breaking up with him. As he’s wandering around, he runs into his ex brother-in-law Vern (Johnny Whitworth) on the street, who gives Eddie a free pill. It’s FDA-approved, Vern says, and it lets you access your entire brain, not just that mythical 20% we always hear about. Eddie’s intrigued. He swallows Vern’s story (along with the pill), and within 30 seconds he’s a bona fide genius.
Suddenly, Eddie is fluent in several languages (after only a half-hour of listening to his Berlitz tape), he teaches himself virtuoso piano (in an afternoon), and he’s making a killing at the tables in Vegas. ‘I wasn’t high. I wasn’t wired,’ he says. ‘I was just clear.’
Eddie scores a whole bag of the little clear pills (I won’t spoil it by telling you how), and starts playing the market, clearing $2 million in four days. He earns the attention of financiers (and the media, natch) and becomes an overnight celebrity on Wall Street, and his new high-rolling lifestyle doesn’t do anything to keep him under the radar. It doesn’t take too long, though, for things to spiral out of control. He starts forgetting big chunks of his day, and he’s even suspected in a murder. Then he realizes his stash is dwindling.
Burger has crafted Limitless as a mind-bending head trip, and it’s anchored by Cooper’s ultra-charismatic performance. The visuals are off-the-charts and reminiscent of Inception, the cinematography by Jo Willems (Hard Candy) only adds to the insanity, and there’s enough tension and angst here to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.
Cooper’s rock-solid performance is one of the great breakouts of the year. After years of being an (admittedly good) part of ensemble in films like The Hangover and The A Team, he finally has his own movie all to himself, and the fact that he can dominate the screen, even when he’s sharing it with De Niro, is saying something. Cornish is also great here, but unfortunately she’s woefully underused. Special mention also to Andrew Howard (Blood River), who plays a nasty, creepy loan shark.
It may be the same general story as that Seinfeld episode, but Limitless has more than enough going for it to stand on its own. And though it’s not quite the master of its domain, it’s pretty darn close.