Limitless Will Make You High

Movie Review: Limitless (2011)
Summary: A writer discovers an experimental drug that bestows him with unsurpassed genius.
Spoilers: none

In Limitless, Bradley Cooper is “Edward Morra,” a broke and struggling writer with a past involving substance abuse, whose life takes an amazing turn when he runs into “Vernon” (Johnny Whitworth), his ex-brother-in-law who introduces him to an experimental drug called NZT48.

Upon taking it, Edward’s life radically changes. The drug brings an unparalleled clarity of thought and concentration, allowing him to organize in his mind every piece of information ever learned. Within the space of a few weeks, he is getting the attention of cutthroat world-renowned investors, like “Carl Van Loon” (Robert De Niro), who wants a piece of his genius.

Being a picture-perfect example of humanity doing what it does best, Edward ups his dosage and continues to cross new thresholds. But being the smartest man in the world comes at a cost; when he finds himself unaware of days of his life and becomes a murder suspect, he begins to suspect that trouble is on the horizon.

When Edward discovers that others who have taken the drug are ending up dead, things expectedly get worse; his newfound love for excelling in life and for tackling the challenge of outdoing himself daily takes a suddenly disheartening turn as he is confronted with the struggle to survive.

While being based on the indisputably false premise of human beings only using 10% of their brains (in this film, we are given the likewise erroneous figure of 20%), the premise of a drug that unites all synapses in a mind to work in perfect harmony to be able to recall every memory ever stored, is such fun science fiction that it must be tinkered with, despite a New Age-ish and pseudo-scientific bend.

This is endorphin-releasing entertainment and it gets personal. We watch and relate to a bright but depressed man who becomes smarter than Good Will Hunting overnight because of a drug, and then we see the attention this drug gets on the black market and among those with the power of the dollar.

We further see the affect this has on Bradley’s lost-and-remade girlfriend, “Lindy” (Abbie Cornish), and on his ex-wife, “Melissa” (Anna Friel). We are amazed and excited, and then woefully curious as to how Edward will pull through...or if he will at all. Gripping and tauntingly choreographed, we watch as Edward’s experiences with the mind-altering substance make us put ourselves in his place. With Edward’s articulate narration, we are made to understand the affects of the drug and its profound changes.

The film’s central setback is the overuse of one character, a street crime boss named “Gennady” (Andrew Howard), who plays a role in the film that is stretched beyond what it needed to have been. When Gennady gets a hold of the drug, he comes at Edward to get more. The threatening character and his thugs are supposed to add yet another dimension of pressure to the already compressed story, but the element almost proves more of a distraction as we approach the conclusion. Cut back on his role and further define some minor plot-supporting details that are left as untied loose ends and you would have had an better film.

As it stands, Limitless is about the (indeed) limitless possibilities that all humans strive to gain access to, which makes this well-acted movie every bit as reassuring as it is entertaining. And unlike some other films about super-geniuses, Cooper's Morra never seems out-of-reach or too farfetched to conceive. And who isn’t elated with the eternally inspiring knowledge that greatness can potentially come from within anyone's noodle?

Limitless explores what every one of us would like to know more about—the mind, and specifically, our own minds. And while being clearly based on an old idea based in mysticism, it covers new ground in the exciting way it explores its material, staying within the framework of science enough to remain respectable, while standing strong as a cutting-edge thriller that more than passes its IQ test.


Grade: A- (4 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for thematic material involving a drug, violence, including disturbing images, sexuality, and language)
Director: Neil Burger
Starring: “Eddie Morra” (Bradley Cooper), “Carl Van Loon” (Robert De Niro), “Lindy” (Abbie Cornish), “Gennady” (Andrew Howard), “Melissa” (Anna Friel), “Vernon” (Johnny Whitworth), “Man in Tan Coat” (Tomas Arana),
Genre: Mystery / Thriller