In weighty films like “Requiem for a Dream” and “Trainspotting,” Hollywood has shown audiences the dark consequences of addiction and the depths that people will sink to when they’re seeking a fix. Drug use causes life to spiral out of control for the characters in these stories, until they hit rock bottom.
However director Neil Burger’s tale “Limitless,” an adaptation of the Alan Glynn novel The Dark Fields, presents an alternate world, where a pill can completely turn your life around. The result is a substance far more addicting with equally dangerous consequences.
Things couldn’t get any worse for Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), a down-and-out writer in New York City; his novel is way behind, he’s late on his rent, and his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) dumps him. When he bumps into an old acquaintance, he’s offered the opportunity to try a new pill called NZT that promises to unlock his brain’s entire potential. Even though Eddie is a bit skeptical, he tries it, since he has nothing to lose.
He instantly feels the awesome power at his finger tips, as he manages to forge ahead in his book, straighten up his apartment, and perform numerous other tasks in a couple of hours. Just a taste of NZT is not enough to satisfy Eddie though, and soon he acquires a large enough supply to take the substance daily. Intoxicated by the potential that he’s able to achieve, Eddie catapults himself into the world of Wall Street in a number of weeks, where he becomes an overnight success.
His newfound wealth attracts the attention of billionaire Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) who takes him under his wing, and attempts to uncover the secret to his achievements. In the meantime, a shadowy group has also taken notice of Eddie’s swift rise to the world of rich and famous, and they begin stalking him in an effort to keep the substance under wraps. As he attempts to dodge his pursuers, Eddie starts to discover some of the nasty side effects of NZT. He’s forced to grapple with the decision to stay on it and continue his unparalleled success, or to give it all up and return to mediocrity.
Bradley Cooper effortlessly plays the role of Eddie; he’s completely believable as a down on his luck writer, and just as convincing as a hotshot businessman both in attitude and physical appearance. The dark sarcasm with which he narrates his adventure, keeps you laughing and helps maintain his likability as a character even after he becomes cocky.
As usual De Niro is no slouch either, but where he really shines is in the delivery of his lines. He carries the proper amount of panache to put Eddie in his place when he’s feeling delusions of grandeur. De Niro’s impact on the film would not be as significant though, if the dialogue was not as well-written. Kudos should go to the writer, Leslie Dixon for penning such great exchanges between Cooper and De Niro’s characters.
Visually, the director Neil Burger does a fantastic job of portraying the various worlds that Eddie lives in during the film. In the beginning, the New York City that Eddie lives in is very bleak and gray, but after he takes NZT though, the city becomes a very bright and vibrant place. Burger’s techniques are fun and enhance the story for the most part, though they ride a fine line in some instances of being cheesy. One particular effect that’s a bit tough to handle in the film is a sort of push zoom that he does through block after block of New York streets.
Leslie Dixon, Neil Burger, and Bradley Cooper each effectively contribute to making Eddie’s tale one that we should care about, as we watch him go from a loser to overnight success story. It is easy to believe that we might struggle with the same ethical dilemmas that he does in the film, because the concept of a substance like NZT is incredibly tempting. You can’t help but enjoy his ride though; there’s action, comedy, murder, and intrigue.