Anyone who has suffered from writer’s block knows how frustrating it can be. You know what you want to say, but you can’t say it. You stare at the computer screen waiting for the words to come tumbling into your mind so that your fingers can tap the keyboard and put them on the blank page in front of you. But the page stays blank, and your fingers rest motionlessly on the keys.
When we first meet Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), the hero of the engrossing new thriller “Limitless” directed by Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”), he has a severe case of writer’s block. He has just landed a lucrative book deal and been given an advance, but no matter how hard he tries, he just can’t come up with the words to begin his book. And to make matters even worse, his beautiful girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish) has just broken up with him.
As a disheveled Eddie is wandering the streets trying to clear his mind and find his muse, he runs into the last person he wants to see – his former brother-in-law, Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), whom he hasn’t seen in years. Vernon convinces Eddie to join him for drink, and as the two talk, Eddie ultimately explains the problem he is having delivering the book he has promised to his publisher. At this point, Vernon, who is a drug dealer, tells Eddie that he can help and gives him a small innocent-looking pill. He says that it is NZT and that it will be on the market soon. He also tells Eddie that the pill will greatly enhance his brainpower.
Eddie takes the pill and returns to his apartment, where he debates whether or not to take it. Finally, he swallows it, and within a short time the results are remarkable. Suddenly he can see things more clearly than he ever has before, and he knows exactly what he wants to write. The only problem is that when the pill wears off, he’s back to being just Eddie again, and so naturally he looks up Vernon to get more of the wonder drug. He manages to obtain a goodly supply, but I won’t reveal how he does this.
While he is taking his medication, Eddie writes his entire book in four days, becomes an accomplished pianist in three days, learns to speak foreign languages just by overhearing snippets of conversations in them, and discovers that he has an incredible ability to play the stock market.
“I suddenly knew everything about everything,” he said. “Everything I had ever read, seen, or heard was now available. Here you are. Here you go.”
Eddie soon realizes that he can make a lot of very quick money in the stock market, and he borrows money from a loan shark named Gennady (Andrew Howard) to give himself a jump start. When the financial world learns that he has turned $12,000 into to $2.3 million in just 10 days, people begin to take notice. One of these is a wealthy businessman named Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), who realizes if he can get Eddie to work for him, he will make millions.
Yes, Eddie is on top of the world, but he soon learns that everything has its price. In the first place, the NZT causes some serious side effects, including blackouts and blinding headaches. Eddie also is running low on the drug, and then Gennady shows up and wants some of the action. From this point on the film evolves into a bona fide thriller as Eddie attempts to maintain his sanity and at the same time avoid Gennady and his thugs, who are willing to kill him to get what they want.
Based upon the novel titled “The Dark Fields” by Alan Glynn, “Limitless” is an exciting, high-tech thriller filled with action, unexpected twists, and mystery. And it also is an examination of the dangers inherent in taking untested drugs and a consideration of just how far people are willing to go to become successful. In the production notes, Burger explained concept of the film.
“I wanted the story to be completely believable, to play it absolutely real. Yet I also wanted to get into Eddie’s head, to show how he perceived the world when he was on the drug, how he processed information and what it was really like to be so smart. I had a number of ideas for unconventional visual techniques to show how he perceives the world. He goes from an Everyman who’s failing to a guy who is on top of the world.
“The movie is about human potential, but it’s also about power and the powerful ride Eddie goes on. The movie is very much about today, and it’s very much about New York. But it’s more universal than that. It’s about a guy who has a thirst for success that he’s never been able to satisfy. The question is what is he willing to do to get what he’s after? I want the audience to be there with him as he makes his choices. He’s such a winning character that you’re willing go down the dark turns with him, as well as into the light.”
The reason that Eddie is a “winning character” is that Cooper makes him that way. Even though we may not always agree with what he does, we cannot help liking Eddie and hoping that he comes out a winner in the end. This is a testament to Cooper’s fine acting and his ability to imbue his character with an irresistible charm.
Oscar winner De Niro and Cornish contribute fine supporting performances, and Howard is sufficiently evil as the vengeful loan shark.
The film also boasts some outstanding special effects during the scenes when Eddie is enduring the throes of NZT’s horrific side effects, and the film’s overall cinematography is outstanding.
“Limitless” (It gets a solid eight.) is a consistently exciting and thought-provoking thriller that will hold your interest from beginning to end. And when it’s over, you will be left with the question that pervades the movie: If there were a pill that could make you brilliant, charming, and wealthy would you risk the side effects to take it? Of course the answers to such a question are limitless.