With Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel. Directed by Neil Burger. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language. 105 minutes.
LIMITLESS is yet another solid science fiction thriller in a season that is becoming an embarrassment of riches. Based on the novel “The Dark Fields” by Alan Glynn, it tells the story of a man who is given limitless power, and then has to figure out how to use it without destroying himself in the process. It provides plenty of thrills without treating viewers like idiots.
Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a struggling writer who can’t seem to get started on his book. Already divorced once, his current girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) dumps him for being a loser who is in a downward spiral. It is while he’s in the depths of despair that he runs into someone who turns him on to an experimental drug that will unlock the power of the mind. You’ve heard how we only use a small part of our brain’s capability? While under the influence, Eddie finds he can use it all. He finishes his book, makes a fortune on Wall Street, and now sets his sights even higher.
Along the way he makes some powerful allies and some dangerous enemies. Financier Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) is impressed with Eddie’s ability to make connections and see things no one else can, while Gennady (Andrew Howard) is the loan shark who discovers the secret of Eddie’s success and now wants more than his money back. All the while Eddie is succeeding on the strength of a large – but ultimately limited – supply of this wonder drug.
Leslie Dixon’s script is an asset. Listen to Van Loon’s speech as to how Eddie hasn’t earned his success and why they need each other. It’s the sort of insightful dialogue that far too few movies have. However the real credit is due director Neil Burger. He has not yet scored a breakout hit, but in his previous movies like “The Illusionist” and “The Lucky Ones,” he has crafted intricate and perceptive stories. Here he uses various visual strategies to give us a sense of what it’s like for Eddie under the influence of the brain enhancer creating excitement even in scenes where all he’s doing is tapping away at a keyboard. By the time things are spinning out of control – which we know is coming from the opening shots of the film – we are invested in finding out if Eddie is doomed or can somehow make it work. This is a story where you’re not likely to have figured out the ending in advance.
Bradley Cooper, probably best known for the overrated “The Hangover,” is credible as the slacker hero who gets the chance to take control of his life, while De Niro, a once-stellar actor who has been phoning it in for years, reminds us just how good he can be in a small but pivotal role. Cornish gets her moment to shine when a mysterious killer chases her through Central Park and she has to rely on resources she didn’t know she had.
“Limitless” is a solid and effective tale about the temptation of power. Along with “The Adjustment Bureau,” “Battle: Los Angeles,” “Paul” and the upcoming “Source Code,” it’s a reminder of just how engaging a good science fiction film can be.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.