Limitless: all Cooper, no substance28th March 2011
Bradley Cooper is Eddie Morra, a scruffy author with writers block and subsequently no writing. Combine this with a book contract that is due imminently and his need for inspiration is clear. Four days later he has written his magnum opus, learnt the piano and most importantly (on the films terms at least) had a makeover. How has he done this? The now super suave Eddie has been popping pills. NZT to be exact, an underground drug that allows users to access 100% of their brains capacity (instead of the mythical 10-20%) It turns him into some sort of Einstein inflected superhero seemingly capable of turning money, into, well… more money. A perfect premise therefore for parodying the drugged-up, prescription-reliant, capitalist-driven, consumerist age in which we live, you may say, being the discerning reader that I’m sure you are. Well do you know what? Shut up, stop thinking, and look at Bradley Cooper in tailored suits being successful at stuff. Greed may or may not be good but Limitless seems concerned only with asking whether or not it’s entertaining.
Based on Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields, the film is directed with a sort of sub-Fincher visual flair by Neil Burger who yet again shows his tendency toward sporadic visual gimmickry. Between the uneven use of cascading letters and fish eye camerawork however he does pioneer a series of unique and motion sickness inducing extended zoom shots of New York’s streets which are technically and somewhat contextually impressive. Outside of these fleetingly stylised moments, though, the film is pretty much conventional in its presentation and Leslie Dixon’s script, while competent at delivering what is a largely intriguing concept, is for the most part uninventive.
Cooper however is cast perfectly to type for the majority of his performance as the smugly confident NZT-addicted Eddie Morra and most importantly provides some much needed style to what is essentially a substance vacuum. With every performance he is showing an increasing amount of promise as a bankable (albeit fundamentally superficial) leading man. De Niro however (as the ridiculously named Carl Van Loon) is thoroughly wasted with minimal opportunity to do anything but phone in his performance. Squandering his talents on insubstantial roles like this and a certain comedy franchise with severely diminishing returns seems like a terrible waste. Where’s Scorsese when you need him?
So, the film has a certain rather effective flashiness, but anyone searching for a deeper meaning beneath the surface will be hard pushed to find one. Between all the sex, lies and pharmaceuticals there may lurk a message of sorts, timidly hinted at in brief encounters with Eddie’s girlfriend (played by a perfectly acceptable Abbie Cornish). She seems to be the film’s voice of reason, threatening to ruin all of the drug-induced fun by occasionally suggesting that the drugs may make him a ‘better’ person, but they also make him a different one. Nevertheless, when the film does seek to explore the underbelly of NZT addiction it slows to a lifeless and entirely unconvincing crawl. The film imbues the viewer with little in the way of emotional attachment to any of the characters, let alone the arrogant, self involved lead. Thinking and reason routinely give way to showy, well handled montages of ever more smug handshaking, back patting and nightclubbing but that’s what the film is here for and that’s fine by me.
Anyway, who needs reason when you’ve got a “four figure IQ”, a new found knack for playing the stock market and a terribly handsome head on your shoulders? Not Eddie Morra and not Limitless that’s for sure. Whenever side effects or come-downs are given even a modicum of screen time, my interest and indeed attention wavered. The film is not about serious moral messages, nor is it grounded in any semblance of reality. At its best when voyeuristically ooh-ing and ah-ing at Eddie Morra’s effortless swagger and the city culture which his character seeks to dominate, Limitless is success porn for the aspirational masses. It isn’t going to change the world, or in fact change anything, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it’s hollow charms and Cooper’s film saving performance while they lasted.