Part fantasy fulfillment, part paranoid thriller, this cautionary sci-fi tale revolves around a struggling author with paralyzing writer’s block.
As the story begins, tormented Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) is teetering on the ledge of a Manhattan building, contemplating suicide. Then flashback reveals what propelled him to this point of desperation. Grubby, shaggy and living in a seedy Chinatown walkup, he’s stuck on page one of a long-overdue novel and his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) has just dumped him. A chance meeting with Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), the hustler brother of his ex-wife Melissa (Anna Friel), turns Eddie on to a cool, new, black market drug called NZT. It’s a pharmaceutical miracle, allowing users to access all parts of their brain, not only retrieving information but also collating and sorting it, leading to insightful conclusions. In a delirious frenzy of clarity and perception, Eddie finishes his novel and embarks on an incredibly lucrative investment career, borrowing seed money from a Russian loan shark (Andrew Howard) and quickly becomes so successful that he attracts the attention of Wall Street high-rollers like Carl Van Loon (Robert DeNiro). But Eddie knows he’s hooked, and when his ‘dealer’ is brutally murdered, Eddie is determined to avoid the same fate.
Producer Leslie Dixon adapted Alan Glynn’s 2001 British novel “The Dark Fields,” a title that references F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Dixon and director Neil Burger (“The Illusionist”) not-so-subtly skew sympathy for the pill-popping protagonist, evoking admonitory stories about writers and other artists who have become addicted to Adderall for the same reasons. But what makes the intoxicating concept even more insidious is the irrefutable charisma of Bradley Cooper, who finally has an opportunity to show not only his acting skill but his scruffy-to-suave range.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Limitless” is a subversive 6. According to the dictionary, in the legend, Faust traded his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, so to strike a Faustian bargain is to be willing to sacrifice anything to satisfy a limitless desire for knowledge or power.