Humans are said to use only 10 – 20 percent of their potential over the course of a lifetime. Cemeteries are said to be full of unwritten books, unmade inventions, and countless other unfulfilled dreams that never saw the light of day due to any number of typically self-imposed excuses.
Screenwriter Leslie Dixon and director Neil Berger flip this notion on its head with Limitless, which poses the question of whether a pill can help to remove the intangibles (fear, doubt, low self-esteem) that stand in the way of humans reaching their full potential.
The movie centers around author, Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper,) who is idling his days away in front of a blank computer screen when he encounters Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), his drug pushing ex-brother-in-law. When Vern presents him with a surefire way to dissolve the massive writer’s block that has prevented Morra from writing one word of a book that his editor is eagerly awaiting, he isn’t sold – at least not at first.
Feeling his bad luck compounded by being dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), Morra figures his life can’t get any worse, so he pops the pill – a small, translucent, extremely expensive tablet called NZT.
In addition to giving him the ability to unleash his literary genius and finish his book over the course of a few hours, the reservoir of knowledge, skills and information hidden in the recesses of his mind can now be summoned at will. Soon, he’s speaking foreign languages, jet-setting around the world and earning mega-bucks thanks to his newfound ability to analyze stocks.
The 180-degree shift in his life has two unwanted consequences: a dependence on the pills in order to maintain his new state of brilliance (running out can have deadly results); and attention from unsavory types who see potential dollar signs.
Limitless has nearly everything: a good mix of action, tastefully edited love scenes, laugh out loud humor and a clever plot. The casting was dead on, with Cooper as realistic in his homeless-looking, rambling writer role as he was as the confident, magnetic ladies’ man.
Robert DeNiro is masterful in his performance as Carl Van Loon, an infamous investment tycoon now seeking advice from the NZT-influenced Morra. The relationship between the two men presents an interesting dynamic that elicits even more questions at the film's end.
Technically, Limitless has the right look and feel. The film’s lighting helped to convey Morra’s sharper, more focused abilities and camera angles gave a “limitless” perspective in the opening scene and at key points throughout.
It’s no surprise that one of the production companies behind Limitless is Virgin Produced, one of the 300 or so companies owned by Sir Richard Branson, a man many consider superhuman. The billionaire founder of Virgin Airways appears to live a limitless life. He’s a major humanitarian who started his first business at age 16, is making space travel possible for the general public and is a close pal of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
One of the things that makes Limitless so much fun is that it succeeds, like Branson’s life, in compelling viewers to ask themselves whether they are living their lives to the fullest or complacently accepting mediocrity because it feels safe.