Limitless is an old school Science Fiction Action thriller with a modern setting. The basic premise comes straight from the pre-Dune / Stranger in a Strange Land territory of SF that explores the impact of a single, new technology on the characters.
The intriguing idea at Limitless’ core is a drug that makes someone smarter and more focused. I’ve read a couple of reviews that point out the film for falling back on urban myths about using the unused parts of the brain. However this fake neuroscience is only ever spouted by a dealer not a scientist so he could have been talking rubbish to sell a product he doesn’t understand.
Bradley Cooper is Eddie Morra. The film relies on a first person narrative, with Morra narrating some events, so Cooper is in pretty much every scene. If he wasn’t good the film would be a disaster. Thankfully he’s on good form. He transforms his character several times during the film from underperformer to genius to suffering side effects to withdrawal and so on. The film only breaks out of the first person perspective for one scene to allow Morra’s girlfriend to be threatened and experience the drug .
Robert De Niro as Carl Van Loon is good. Thankfully there isn’t a hint of ham in his performance. Saddly there just wasn’t enough of his character in the film.
The film’s pacing is a bit patchy with some of the stages of Eddie Morra raced through without really being explored. In particular the ending was weakened by suddenly jumping forwards to face down De Niro who should be the heavy weight villain and not the Andrew Howard’s nasty loan shark -Gennady. If he’d been neutralized sooner Van Loon could have developed into a far more interesting threat.
There are some points where the plot forces you to accept coincidence or that the hero after taking the drug isn’t as smart as he’s supposed to have become. For example why doesn’t he pay off his loan to the nasty loan shark as soon as he can or spot that the businessman who suddenly rose to power and prominence is on the same drug he is? Based on the numbers we’re given he was making money fast enough that he didn’t really need to go to the loan shark he just needed a few more days of being patient.
The effects are a bit patchy. They are largely to create drug related effects and to try to interpret in a rather literal way the impact of the drug on Eddie’s though process. The tone is also a bit uneven. During the climax it goes from suspense to horror at the hero drinking drug tainted blood to treating blinding a one eyed villain as comedy in the vein of early Bond villain’s meeting their end.
Personally I thought Limitless was a good but not great film.