If you could take a pill to become a perfect version of yourself, would you? That’s the dilemma facing struggling writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) in Limitless. Dumped by his girlfriend, behind on his rent and suffering writers’ block on a book he’s already received an advance for, it’s no surprise he jumps at the chance – and really are there many people out there who wouldn’t? Unfortunately Limitless takes the interesting premise and completely fails to fully utilise it, eventually treating it as a super-pill that makes you effectively invulnerable, resulting in a thriller that doesn't really thrill.
It all starts so promisingly as well with Eddie about to leap off the top of a building as unseen nefarious individuals attempt to get into his room before flashing back to before the original proposition. These early stages of the film are the most intriguing with Eddie experiencing the ups and downs of taking the clear pill at the same time as we do, with a clever use of contrasting colour schemes to signify when he’s on or off it. However what starts off interesting eventually falls into an average thriller pattern, with our protagonist having to overcome a series of problems as the pill starts to become a standard MacGuffin.
This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the film offered up exciting set pieces but there’s never any sense of danger for the characters because Limitless effectively ‘jumps the shark’ (to borrow a TV phrase) as the pill becomes a guaranteed way out of any situation. Case in point being when Eddie’s on-off girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) is cornered by a knife-wielding villain, all she has to do is pop a pill and then know how to use a young girl’s ice stakes as an effective weapon. The only time the pill isn’t there to save the day, all it results in is Eddie not being able to answer a pressing financial question. Oh, the tension.
Perhaps the main issue with the film though is that it raises intriguing side-plots that spark it into life and then infuriatingly either leaves them unanswered or solves them with a solution which you can count on one finger how many minutes it took to come up with. Take one side effect of the pill raised for example: the black outs that start to happen once Eddie ingests more and more each day to raise his game. Solution? Lower the daily intake and then all’s peachy. It means that the pill is a side-thought in itself, rather than being central to the film as it arguably should have been.
Still it’s not all bad as Limitless has some redeeming qualities and they mainly belong to Bradley Cooper. His charisma and charm manage to keep Eddie a character the audience can just about root for, despite him essentially being a smarmy know-it-all and the film at least shows that Cooper can carry a film on his quest to Hollywood super-stardom. However the rest of the cast don’t fare as well with some under-written roles, especially Robert De Niro who doesn’t appear as often as his billing on the poster would suggest; same goes for Anna Friel who puts in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shift.
Everything is done very stylishly as well with great editing – such as quick cuts signifying whenever Eddie is thinking something through – and excellent cinematography from Jo Willems (30 Days Of Night) with several extended tracking/zoom shots through the city being the standouts. Still all that does is add cinematic flourishes to an otherwise shallow film that becomes bogged down in genre conventions, tied together with an uninteresting plot – would you really decide to become a financial guru if you could do literally anything? Ultimately, Limitless should have taken a clear pill or five as it is far from a perfect version of itself.