Circuit Brilliance


19 March 2011| No Comments on Limitless     by Sean Chavel


Once in awhile I come across something that leaves me blind-sided. I had little, if no, expectations for the new conceptual fantasy-thriller Limitless. By poster ads (thou shall not judge a film by its poster from this point forward), it looked routine, mundane and formulaic. Marginally, if limitedly, formulaic it is. But I was invested in the characters as well as in the ingenious style of the movie that when “programmed” action scenes ensued, I didn’t mind. Bradley Cooper, who accustoms just fine in his role, begins as a greasy and disheveled loser who takes an experimental elixir called NZT-48. “It doesn’t sound very FDA approved,” he first quips. The drug takes the human brain from 20% access to 100% receptive access by circuiting the synapses within the mind to maximize potential. Robert DeNiro, in one of his more impressive performances in recent years, plays a financial titan who contracts Cooper to structure and spearhead a major corporate merger. Cooper’s addictive drug intake as well as the fallacy of making acquaintance with the wrong people, becomes over-demanding. This movie is a head rush when it’s at its best.

What else can I say to convince you? It has been directed by Neil Burger who made the glowing and marvelously tricky “The Illusionist” with Edward Norton. Now you know that it hasn’t been made by an idiot. You know you’re in the hands of superior filmmaking by the time the opening credits roll on and we get a spectacular tunneled head rush that seems to zoom infinitely – seemingly without any  cut in editing. Color schemes are surprisingly captivating in the way it begins with downcast grey colors and then illuminates into radiant and spastic spectrums of light (it’s like “A Beautiful Mind” beautified). Eventually Cooper, as Eddie Morra, has schizophrenic outbreaks and the result is spectral duplicates of himself – in one shot, capturing two divergent frames of mind – this has been done before but it is still visually impressive.

An old friend introduces him to NZT, and then by chance, Cooper takes over the stash. Wired up, Cooper is able to write the book that his impatient publishers have been waiting for. He is able to reconnect with both his recent ex-girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish, doing her most convincing grown-up work to date) and ex-wife Melissa from long ago (Anna Friel). The drug though is more than just about boosting smarts as it is also about speed, and many other flings of the night fall into his lap. But it’s the financial trading world that Cooper wants to conquer so he hooks up with a vicious Russian loan shark (Andrew Howard). He takes the loan, and then by his own abstract pattern system is able to quadruple his money, thus, catching the attention of every Wall Street banker plugged into the news.

Throughout his career, DeNiro has always been cogent when playing smug rich men. But here as Carl Van Loon, he is an elitist, an intellectual challenger, a cutthroat of social plebeians, a monarch of the business world. He does not like brash upstarts that have one selling point but no critical diagnostics. But Cooper dominates their first meeting, and even when DeNiro puts up trick questions they are answered expertly. “You have delusions of grandeur,” DeNiro spikes. “No, I have a recipe for grandeur,” Cooper retorts. What’s great about DeNiro is that even when his character’s intelligence is defeated by the protégé he still, with his mercurial authority, tries to demand then clutch everything out of Cooper that he possibly can – his greed too is limitless.

Conqueror of multi-tasking, there isn’t anything that Cooper can’t do. Except that criminals/spies/elitists – anyone of them – are following him. The side effects begin to kick in so he wants off but now that the drug is imbued into his bloodstream, the consequential withdrawals induce headaches and vomiting. I never believed for a moment when Cooper is accosted that he would dispense his own pills to, let’s say the dark side, instead of just substituting it with a placebo. It’s the one script concession that has to be made in order for Cooper to be thrown into a serpent’s nest where he will be exposed to danger from all sides. The thrills still register probably because the what-if fantasy of all never loses its tantalizing factor.

This is a terrific yarn, a dashing and clever entertainment. Random exit quote from guy behind me: “It has its flaws, but that was the most entertaining movie that I’ve seen in a long, long time.”

105 Minutes. Rated PG-13.


Film Cousins: “Charly” (1969); “Being There” (1979); “A Beautiful Mind” (2002); “The Illusionist” (2006).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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