An action-thriller starring Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro that is not just limited but morally confused.
The story follows Eddie Morra (Cooper) a struggling writer devoid of inspiration whose life is going wrong. To really emphasise this image of destitution Eddie has long hair and a dirty flat. This ingenious idea manages to perfectly capture the essence of the difference between him and men who have short hair and tidy living rooms. Hollywood long ago decided that these are the characteristics required for a male to truly obtain inner peace. To enhance the image of Eddie as a character worthy of following in what is essentially a tale of self improvement; early on his girlfriend Lindy, played by Abbie Cornish, breaks up with him. The reasoning is confused but at this stage that is irrelevant. The picture is complete. Eddie’s world is now definitely a mess and something is needed in order to reinvigorate him and give him purpose. Unusually for a mainstream Hollywood film the pick-me-up comes in the form of…. drugs. A chance encounter between Eddie and the brother of his ex-wife; Vernon, played by Johnny Whitworth, sees Eddie introduced to NZT.
NZT serves as the main thought provoking element to this film. Apparently humans only use 20 per cent of their brains and this drug allows a person to access the extra 80 per cent. Through a set of circumstances I won’t ‘spoil’ Eddie gets hold of a large amount of NZT pills with which he embarks on an extended montage of self improvement. With his mental capacity brimming he bashes out an apparently fantastic novel in no time, cleans his flat, gets his hair cut, learns multiple languages and makes millions on the stock market. There is more that happens and I haven’t even introduced DeNiro’s character but that isn’t what I want to talk about and in truth barely matters in a film whose entire purpose is to plug Bradley Cooper in light of the approaching ‘Hangover’ sequel.
To an extent this film shares a vision with Darren Aranofsky’s Requiem for a dream. Requiem’s central characters embark on a journey to make enough money to afford pure heroin which lacks the side effects of the scag available on the street. Inevitably the good times on the drug bring about side effects. Eddie experiences headaches and vomiting when he begins to run out of NZT so he pays a lab technician to develop a purer form of the drug he needs to keep him working at optimum level. However unlike ‘Requiem’ where Jared Leto ends up with an arm amputation and Jennifer Connelly performs horrendous sexual acts to feed her addiction, in ‘Limitless’ we are supposed to support Eddie in his quest to gain the drug. There is even a scene at the end where he desperately searches for one last pill in order heighten his senses and be able to escape a life threatening situation. It’s literally the same as Popeye using spinach. But instead of encouraging children to eat their greens this film advocates the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Whilst not spoiling the ending the conclusion appears to be that drugs are ok as long as you get rich and successful and there aren’t any side effects. Fine, but why then does Lindy leave Eddie when she discovers that his self improvement is the result of drug influence. Is she wrong to leave a man with a drug dependence that has completely altered his personality? It appears so because inexplicably she gets back together with him by the end despite his continued use of NZT.
Aside from the confused approach to addressing drugs, it takes some serious liberties in assuming what a hyper-intelligent being would want to achieve. In this story Eddie goes from wanting to be a writer to wanting to make huge amounts of money, enter the corporate world, dominate the stock market and eventually make a run for President. Interestingly Leo Tolstoy began as a writer and when he became successful and incredibly rich he turned away from the establishment and the political class and began working like a peasant in search of fulfilment. Other super intelligent men like Che Guevara went from a doctor to a revolutionary communist. But this is a capitalist film in line with the American dream. This is hardly outside-of-the-box thinking and it’s really no wonder that a film with such limited philosophy completely fails to deal with the issue of drugs.
If you ignore these irritating questions then it’s a standard thriller. DeNiro’s good in the 10 minutes you actually see him whilst Bradley Cooper’s fine if you like him or irritating with a giant Cheshire grin if you don’t.
Rating: Meh 5/10