'Limitless' Thrill

'Limitless' Thrill

During the height of the steroids-in-baseball scandal a friend defending the muscle-bound sluggers asked, “You mean to tell me that if someone came up to you and offered you a pill that would make you dramatically better at your job and ratchet up your pay grade that you wouldn’t take it?”

It was an interesting hypothetical and it gave me pause, but since being able to bench press a Chevy Malibu wouldn’t really give me much of an advantage over my fellow movie critics I quickly dismissed it.

However, the new thriller “Limitless” envisions a world where I wouldn’t be let off the hook so easily as a black-market pill has been devised that greatly enhances mental prowess, creating the cerebral version of Barry Bonds.

I thought I had this movie pegged from the trailer, which showed a schlubby writer (as played by Bradley Cooper) who, thanks to a little clear pill, becomes a super-slick brainiac. In my mind the movie would unfold with Cooper achieving greatness, dealing with unwelcome side effects, realizing that life is better without the pill, credits roll, we’re all better people, stay in school kids and don’t do drugs.

Fortunately “Limitless” isn’t content with being a simple morality tale and instead unspools as a dynamic thriller that plays with some weighty issues along the way.

The movie was directed by Neil Burger who is probably best known for his film “The Illusionist.” Burger never once settles for a simple shot as “Limitless” is visually compelling throughout, especially with the clever visuals he uses to illustrate the effects of the drug. I think it would be fair to count David Fincher amongst Burger’s influences as when combined with Cooper’s voice-over narration “Limitless” plays out a bit like a poor man’s “Fight Club.”


Cooper erases any doubts of his ability to be a leading man, and while he is most believable as a fast-talking dynamo, his best acting might be during his pre-drug phase as an unkempt, failing author.

Supporting turns are also solid, including Abbie Cornish as Cooper’s on-again/off-again girlfriend and Robert De Niro as a corporate tycoon looking to take advantage of Cooper’s emergence as a financial wunderkind. De Niro’s role is little more than a cameo, but he does have a couple of great scenes that represent his best work in at least a decade. Granted, that’s not saying much, but still.

“Limitless” is a compelling enough movie just to look at and becomes an effective thriller as dark forces begin to collect around Cooper’s new-found ambition. But what’s maybe even more surprising is that this film doesn’t shy away from being a little intellectually challenging as well.

Plotwise “Limitless” does leave a bit to be desired. Several issues never get satisfactorily resolved, character motivations are often murky and the movie does sag at times under the weight of the ridiculousness of the premise.

That said, the film does deserve credit for diving right in to issues of identity, morality, addiction, altruism and ambition and for not being afraid to admit there are no easy answers. Even the ending is compellingly vague, leaving us to wonder if advantages in pill form are inherently good or bad or if we even have the ability to tell the difference.

“Limitless” is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving a drug, violence including disturbing images, sexuality and language.

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