Movie Review | Limitless
Movie summary: With the help of a mysterious pill that enables the user to access one hundred percent of his brain abilities, a struggling writer becomes a financial wizard, but it also puts him in a new world with lots of dangers. (IMDb)
Limitless is very much like Red Sparrow was to me, in that I can recognise it has some pretty serious faults, but the story scratches a narrative itch and I can't really explain why. From a story point of view, it makes use of the same nonsense science about using our whole brain to improve ourselves that Lucy did, only things are a little more restrained here.
To further differentiate itself from the Scarlett Johansson movie, Limitless technically has a villain protagonist in the form of Bradley Cooper's Eddie Morra rather than someone trying to do better. Eddie is given multiple 'wake-up calls' that a lesser film might use to turn the central character into a hero and right their wrongs, but not here.
It helps that Cooper is so good as Eddie, making him feel like a total loser and getting the audience to root for him to succeed, although I imagine most don't realise the path he's heading down until way too late in the movie. The same could be said of the character, but there's a moment early on that I only noticed during this most recent watch that kicks it all off, and it's pretty subtle - but definitely the start of his path to darkness.
In addition to Cooper keeping Eddie sympathetic to the audience, he's also put up against people who are much worse than him - at least at this point. Putting 'Bad' against 'Worse' is a pretty decent way to keep the audience on the side of a villain protagonist and it works exceptionally well here, with Eddie facing threats both corporate and more street level.
As far as the corporate 'villainy' goes, Robert De Niro fits the part well as Carl Van Loon, who hopes to take Eddie under his wing and mould him to become an ally, rather than a potential future rival. Van Loon isn't evil in the usual sense, but he definitely comes across as amoral and power-hungry - two attributes good guys don't usually possess.
There's also loan shark and flat out violent criminal Gennady, played by Andrew Howard. This guy is definitely a much more traditional movie villain and is, as a result, the character responsible for a number of Limitless' weaker moments. Gennady is uninteresting and a very generic 'bad guy with an accent' - although this does help to further push the audience into liking Eddie even more as a result.
The split between these two greater evils are ultimately what stop Limitless becoming a great movie. One side is about manipulating relationships and power plays, the other is more violent and immediately threatening - but the two don't really balance that well and the latter only drags the former down because of eye-rollingly unoriginal it is.
If anything, Limitless is a great 'super-villain' origin story that has you rooting for what appears to be the lesser evil until you realise that his end goals are actually more threatening than anything he has to overcome during the course of the movie. How quickly you get clued in to that idea could change how you perceive the movie and I wouldn't be surprised if Eddie is still viewed positively by a lot of people when it's all over.
And that's what I like about Limitless so much: it will depend on your own internal morality as to how much you'll like the movie. The main character isn't particularly likeable if you look at him in isolation before he even starts down a dark path, resists multiple opportunities to earn redemption and ultimately reveals his aims are far higher than those who tried to use him for their own ends.
This might come from the influx of superhero movies over the last decade, but this really is a great origin story for a bad guy. Hell, De Niro's Van Loon flat out refers to Eddie's 'powers', how he hasn't earned them and is going to make a mistake that will cost him - how he talks and the language he uses could be lifted straight out of a comic-book movie, but there's no heroes to save the day this time.
Limitless is a fun and re-watchable movie despite the nonsense science and formulaic plot. Bradley Cooper is great as Eddie Mora, convincing both as slacker writer and super-smart genius, and makes you want to keep watching even if the supporting characters are paper-thin or generic archetypes. It's not a great film by any means, but it's still a definite recommended watch.