Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Limitless (2011)

Limitless is a 2011 film directed by Neil Burger and starring Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, and Robert De Niro. It is based on the 2001 novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn with the screenplay by Leslie Dixon. The film was released on March 18, 2011.

The Plot

Edward "Eddie" Morra (Bradley Cooper) is a playwright who lives in New York City. He has recently been dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) in addition to failing to meet the deadline to turn in his new book, which he hasn't started yet. One day, Eddie comes across Vernon Gant (Johnny Whitworth), the brother of his ex-wife, Melissa Gant (Anna Friel). Vernon is a drug dealer, and he offers Eddie a sample of a new (fictional) nootropic drug, NZT-48, claiming it allows humans to access 100% of the brain's power, as opposed to the "normal" 20%. Eddie accepts, and, much to his surprise, the drug does indeed work, putting him into a manic state, and enabling him to write the first 90 pages to his book, exciting his publisher.

Eddie asks for more of the drug, but when Vernon asks him to go pick up his dry cleaning, he returns to find Vernon murdered and his apartment ransacked. Eddie calls the police and deduces that Vernon was probably killed by someone who wanted his stash of NZT. He finds the drugs, his address book, and a wad of cash just before the police arrive. Regularly taking NZT, and using Vernon's cash, he turns his life around. After finishing his book he focuses on trading stocks, initially financed with a $100,000 loan from a Russian mafia thug, Gennady (Andrew Howard). Eddie gets back together with Lindy. He starts increasing his dose of NZT while he turns his loan into more than $2million in just a few days. His fame hits the news, but he notices he is followed by a man in a tan coat (Tomas Arana).

His successful trading gets him a meeting with powerful businessman, Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro). Van Loon gives him an assignment to research overnight, but the higher dose of NZT is causing side effects including lost time, frenetic activity, and hallucinations. Eddie goes on a drinking and partying binge, and ends up in a hotel room with a striking blond (Caroline Winberg). He is followed there by the man in the tan coat.

Eddie wakes up just prior to his meeting with Van Loon, and decides to forgo taking NZT after his experience the night prior. He hasn't looked at the assignment, but goes to the meeting anyway. Van Loon wants to force a merger with a competitor, Hank Atwood (Richard Bekins), and can't figure out how the head of the merger target could come from out of nowhere to be a viable partner in just 2 years. Just as Eddie begins to realize that Atwood may be on NZT too, a news flash appears on a TV screen showing that the woman Eddie was out with the evening before was murdered.

Eddie was feeling sick after his binge, and is even sicker now. His ex-wife calls him and tells him she suspects he is on NZT. He pleads for a face-to-face meeting, but Melissa is reluctant. He wants to learn more about the side effects of the drug, so he starts calling the names in Vernon's address book. He discovers that everyone listed is either dead, or in the hospital sick. While calling one of the names, he hears a phone ring, and a person sitting close by answering. It is the man in the tan coat. He chases Eddie, who escapes and meets with Melissa.

Melissa explains that the pill makes you very sick, especially if you try to go off it cold turkey. She quit 2 years earlier, and felt she was lucky to be alive, but has lost her ability to concentrate, and has become lazy. She tells him the best way is to ease off gradually, reducing the dosage over time.

Eddie finds a pill in his pocket, and heads home to take it, but is apprehended by the Russian, Gennady, looking for his money. Gennady notices the pill, and takes it. Eddie gets his money from the bank, and the Russian tells him that it makes him feel very good.

Eddie is getting sicker as he goes through withdrawal, and stumbles into Lindy's office. He tells her about the drug, and that he has hidden his stash at her apartment. Seeing how sick he is, she agrees to retrieve his stash and return it to him at her office.

On her way back to Eddie, Lindy is intercepted en route by the man in the tan coat. It becomes obvious that he is dangerous, as he gives chase to Lindy, killing two men trying to help her as she flees. By phone, Eddie convinces her to take a pill as it will enable her to know what to do to survive. Doing so, Lindy makes a bold escape. Though Eddie is saved, Lindy is convinced that he will destroy himself because of NZT and breaks up with him again.

The Russian enforcer realizes the effects the drug has and threatens Eddie until he agrees to give him more NZT. Because of Melissa's warnings, Eddie manages his consumption of the drug down to an acceptable level, and uses his fortune to hire bodyguards, and recruits a scientist to work on reverse engineering NZT. Meanwhile, he reconnects with Van Loon to assist with the merger deal.

While planning the merger, Eddie is told he is a suspect for the murder of the blonde. He hires a top lawyer, Morris Brandt (Ned Eisenberg). Morris tells him that the room was wiped of finger prints, and there is no real evidence against him.

Negotiations on the merger go well, but Eddie notices how frail Atwood is. Van Loon tells Eddie that he will be paid $40 million if the deal closes. Eddie purchases a well fortified "bunker" penthouse.

At the meeting to close the merger deal, Atwood is late. His wife shows up, and says he would complete the deal, but is in a coma in the hospital. Her chauffeur is the man in the tan coat. He had been looking to get NZT for Atwood, thus confirming how he accomplished his meteoric rise.

Next, Eddie is met by his lawyer, and stands in a lineup for the murder. He is not identified. He had to pass his custom tailored suit jacket to the lawyer while he was in the lineup. When Eddie goes to take another pill, he realizes that the lawyer has lifted his stash of pills that were in a hidden pocket. To make matters worse, Van Loon accuses him of leaking the merger story to the press, and he has the hands of his bodyguards delivered to him in a box while he is meeting with Van Loon. He heads home to his bunker, and while trying to figure out what is going on, he sees Morris Brandt, his lawyer, on the television, acting as Atwood's lawyer.

The Russians break down the door to his apartment, looking for the NZT. Gennady explains that he is no longer ingesting the pills, but instead dissolves them in a solution, and injects them. The effects hit faster, and last longer. While the Russian's associates are searching the apartment, Eddie is able to stab Gennady. He is desperate for a hit as he lays beside the bleeding man. All he can do is drink the blood that is pooling beside him. Revitalized, he stabs one of the thugs in the eye, and tricks him into shooting the other.

Atwood dies at the hospital, Brandt having kept the NZT for himself. Eddie tells the man in the tan coat that Brandt has caused his boss to die, and gets his help retrieving his stolen NZT at Brandt's house.

Twelve months later, Eddie's book has been published (titled Illuminating the Dark Fields, a reference to the novel on which the film is based), and Eddie is running for the United States Senate. In the midst of his campaign, Carl Van Loon approaches Eddie with the revelation that he has bought the company secretly producing NZT and that the backroom lab Eddie was financing has been shut down.

Carl offers him an unlimited supply of NZT (admitting that they both know he is headed for Presidency); however, Eddie must use his political position to push Carl's agenda in return. Eddie refuses, explaining that having had the foresight to have multiple labs working on the NZT, he had improved the drug and reduced the side effects. Eddie says that he tapered off it completely while permanently retaining its mental enhancements.

By touching Van Loon's chest, Eddie tells Carl that he has a serious cardiac problem. Van Loon looks stunned. Eddie lets him know that with his enhanced thinking, he is already 50 moves ahead of Van Loon, having thought of every contingency, which wraps up their relationship.

The movie ends with Eddie meeting Lindy for lunch at a Chinese restaurant, their relationship apparently renewed. When the waiter walks by, Eddie stops him and orders in Chinese. Lindy looks at him, surprised, and Eddie asks (with a mischievous smile), "What?" Whether Eddie is still on the original NZT produced by one of his multiple lab locations, an improved NZT, or has successfully gotten off of the drug as he claimed, is left ambiguous.


Limitless received generally positive reviews from film critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 70% based on reviews from 180 critics, and reports a rating average of 6.4 out of 10. The site reported a consensus that, "Although its script is uneven, Neil Burger directs Limitless with plenty of visual panache, and Bradley Cooper makes for a charismatic star." At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 59 based on 37 reviews.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 2 and 1/2 stars and said it was "not terrifically good, but the premise is intriguing" and also stated that director Neil Burger uses "inventive visual effects." Lastly he said, "Limitless only uses 15, maybe 20 percent of its brain. Still, that's more than a lot of movies do."

Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "Limitless should be so much smarter than it is," believing that it took conventional plot turns and stuck closely to genre elements like Russian gangsters and Wall Street crooks. Honeycutt reserved praise for Cooper, Abbie Cornish, and Anna Friel. He also commended cinematographer Jo Willems' camerawork and Patrizia von Brandenstein's production design in the film's array of locales.

Variety's Robert Koehler called Limitless a "propulsive, unexpectedly funny thriller". Koehler wrote, "What makes the film so entertaining is its willingness to go far out, with transgressive touches and mind-bending images that take zoom and fish-eye shots to a new technical level, as the pill enables Eddie to experience astonishing new degrees of clarity, perception and energy." He said of Cooper's performance, "Going from grungy to ultra-suave with a corresponding shift in attitude, Cooper shows off his range in a film he dominates from start to finish. The result is classic Hollywood star magnetism, engaging auds physically and vocally, as his narration proves to be a crucial element of the pic's humor." The critic also positively compared Willems' cinematography to the style in Déjà Vu (2006) and commended the tempo set by the film's editors Naomi Geraghty and Tracy Adams and by composer Paul Leonard-Morgan.

Limitless received the award for Best Thriller at the 2011 Scream Awards.

The Cast

Bradley Cooper as Edward Morra
Robert De Niro as Carl Van Loon
Abbie Cornish as Lindy
Anna Friel as Melissa Gant
Johnny Whitworth as Vernon Gant
Robert John Burke as Don Pierce
Tomas Arana as the Man in a tan coat
T.V. Carpio as Valerie
Patricia Kalember as Mrs. Atwood
Andrew Howard as Gennady
Ned Eisenberg as Morris Brandt

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