Review: Limitless

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The Pitch: Forget the red or blue ones, the smart people take the clear pill.

The Review: Bradley Cooper really did seem to be the only possible choice to play Templeton Peck in last year’s A-Team remake. The dashing looks and grin that errs just on the right side of sleazy had already been put to good use in films such as The Hangover and Yes Men, and those rare qualities have now given him a big leading role of his own. But what if that potential lays within us all? To be smart, funny, to look effortlessly cool and to be one step ahead; and all it would take is a little clear pill. For normal Bradley Cooper it would take a lot of work to undo that, but here he’s rocking the grunge look and hitting deadlines with the accuracy of a blind man with no thumbs trying to pin a tail on a fast moving donkey. So when one clear pill comes his way, it doesn’t feel like there’s much to lose.

But by then we’ve already had a taste of what’s to come, and with every pill come choices and consequences. (That said, if I could take one pill and end up meeting Robert De Niro, I’d probably swallow now and ask questions later.) The consequences soon start piling up for Cooper’s Eddie Mora, from the side effects of the drug to the possibility of those who want the drug themselves coming knocking, and those risks come increasingly with the threat of violence. As parable for conventional drug use, it’s pretty effective in its clear demonstration of both the attraction and the risks, and indeed the lengths that Eddie, or any other addict for that matter, will go to in order to maintain their habit.

Bradley Cooper does exactly what you’d expect of him in the role, but he earns his money because he does what he does very well indeed. He’s on screen almost constantly, and there are only two others that have any significant screen time. Abbie Cornish gets the girlfriend role, and is a little anonymous (unfortunately for her, Anna Friel gets much more to do in less screen time), but the big disappointment is Robert De Niro. At his best when either raging or quietly simmering, here he’s congenial but fails crucially to convey any weight to his acting, or indeed much interest in what he’s asked to do. So much of the work in keeping us interested falls to Cooper, and thankfully he’s up to the task.

The other people hard to keep us interested are screenwriter Leslie Dixon, whose script doesn’t always follow the predictable path (apart from a flash-forward opening on a high rooftop that feels a little clichéd), and director Neil Burger. Burger is best known for the Edward Norton starrer The Illusionist, which had a stately, period feel; in the more contemporary setting, he makes use of a variety of different visual tricks and creates a visceral thrill ride which keeps Limitless moving forward quickly enough that you can overlook the odd flaw or cheesy moment in the plotting. It’s only late on, when De Niro comes more to the fore and consequently the plot’s creaking becomes more apparent, that things sag, and it doesn’t help that the ending feels slightly like a cheat. Still, while not limitless, Bradley Cooper still has plenty of potential still to exploit, and on the strength of this should go further.

Why see it at the cinema: There’s a real Fight Club vibe in the use of the visuals early on, and Burger makes fantastic use of the screen. Just a shame he runs out of steam late on.

The Score: 7/10

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