Limitless (Neil Berger, 2011): USA

Reviewed by William Conlin. Viewed at Camino Real Cinemas in Santa Barbara.

What if you had the ability to bring your brain to its maximum potential? Would you write novels? Rule Wall Street? Run for office? Maybe you could do all three. This is the scenario posed in Neil Berger’s new thriller Limitless.

Limitless follows down and out writer Eddie (Bradley Cooper) who by chance meeting of an ex-brother-in-law obtains a pill that will increase his brain power from 20% to 100% in 30 seconds. After one use Eddie is hooked and soon becomes the toast of Wall Street, catching the eye of industry mogul Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). As Van Loon prepares to make the biggest corporate merger in history he enlists Eddie as his point man, but when his supply of the pill begins to run out Eddie is forced to take drastic matters to keep his supply flowing while battle the side effects of being off the pill.

From a technical standpoint I really enjoyed the cinematography by Jo Willems (30 Days of Night). Willems use of color is excellent and the scenes where Bradley Cooper is aimlessly walking around New York City one gets a true sense of disorientation. As a big fan of Neil Berger’s fantasy romance The Illusionist I was hoping he would deliver the same twist and turns, and I was not disappointed.

At 105 minutes I was worried that this film wouldn’t have enough thrill to keep things interesting but I can say I was on the edge of my seat for most of the movie. There are a couple of somewhat predictable moments but for every one of those there are three that come out of nowhere. A particular scene in Central Park had me so nervous I could feel my heart beating.
The film relies heavily on Cooper’s excellent acting. His transitions from simple-minded to genius-level are subtle but impressive. As he falls deeper and deeper into trouble the audience willingly follows. De Niro delivers his ever-solid self as a cutthroat mogul but one must truly wait until the end of the film for him to come alive.

Overall, Limitless is a taught psychological thriller that will leave you guessing and wanting more. Though I usually hate “wish-fulfillment” films, this one actually managed to keep a balance between the dreams and consequences.

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