Its the dream come true. A pill that allows a person to remember everything he or she has ever seen, access it instantly, and fire off the synapses in order to use that information meaningfully in any given situation. Too good to be true? Of course. And thats the rub in LIMITLESS, a spiffy little thriller based on the Alan Glynn novel of the same name, about being just a little too smart for ones own good.
The pill, NXT, is an experimental drug not exactly on the market, but available through a dealer in controlled substances who drops back into the life of Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) at just the right time. Eddie is a writer with a book contract, writers block, and a girlfriend who has just dumped him for being a mess, literally and figuratively. On the worst day of his life, he runs into his ex-brother-in-law, the dealer, and is given a pill that, he is assured by someone he has no reason to believe, will solve his problems. At least the literary one. And so it does. Thirty seconds after dropping it, the world takes on a brilliant clarity, echoed in the brightening of the cinemascape. Eddie has astonishing insight into why the distaste his landlords wife feels for him is deeper than late rent payments. The block clears and novel writes itself, as animated letters drop from the sky while Eddie types. He also suddenly feels the need to clean his tenement-like apartment, the which he does with a thoroughness and respect for the aesthetics of décor, such as it is, that would make Martha Stewart smile approvingly.
Then the catch settles in. The effects wear off. Eddies mind clouds and the headaches begin. His brother-in-law ends up on the wrong side of a bullet. The cache of NXT that he cadges from the dead mans apartment wont last forever, but the ability to assimilate information, and the cash Eddie cadges at the same time, give him his stake in day-trading his way up the financial ladder that will eventually lead him to the very pinnacle of the world of earth-shaping financial dealings. Just as hes on the verge of becoming a player in that rarified atmosphere courtesy of its major player, the delightfully monikered Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro wafting a barely civilized sinister air), he also begins to notice slips in time, and more than one unfortunate choice that comes part and parcel with the added NXT bonus of losing his shyness and fear. Things such as doing business with a Russian loan shark with a penchant for describing his gruesome methods for getting either his money or his revenge.
The story clips along with nifty camera tricks that mirror Eddies increasingly confused but erudite state. Coopers knack for slipping from cocksure to self-assured is a delight to watch, as is the way his bright blue eyes slip in and out of certainty and complacency. His performance, the kinetic energy of the direction by Neil Burger, and a looming sense of dread over the physical and mental toll taken by operating at such a high pitch of efficiency buoy the proceedings along. As for the plot, its clever, making a fine distinction between being smart and being savvy, and then hinging the outcome on it without giving too much away in the process.
Starting with Eddie teetering on a balcony railing high above a New York street and ending with a question that is in many ways its own answer. LIMITLESS is unpretentious, compact, and loads of fun as it parses the combustible combination of ego, brains, and money.