Reviews

'Limitless': Being Bradley Cooper

Eddie should know better than to take drugs from someone spouting a popular, trailer-ready, and absolutely false notion about brain use.


Limitless

Director: Neil Burger
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Relativity Media/Rogue Pictures
Year: 2011
UK release date: 2011-03-23 (General release)
US release date: 2011-03-18 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Bradley Cooper is cast against type in Limitless -- at least at first. His Eddie Morra is a schlubby, lazy writer with stringy hair and a dingy apartment. Blocked on his novel and dumped by his girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), Eddie bumps into his former brother-in-law Vernon (Johnny Whitworth), who happens to offer a cure for his life woes: a new designer drug, not yet on the market, that will allow Eddie to fulfill his potential. "They say we can only access 10% of our brains," Vernon explains, adding that the drug, NZT, allows people to use the full 100.

Eddie should know better than to take drugs from someone spouting a popular, trailer-ready, and absolutely false notion about brain use. And by "they," Vernon must mean hacky screenwriters. These same writers have strange ideas about what constitutes an impoverished loser: before he takes any enhancement drugs, Eddie already has a book contract and, briefly, a gorgeous (albeit frustrated) girlfriend, among other advantages. These suggest that Eddie's transformation into the proper Bradley Cooper -- quick-thinking master of the universe -- is inevitable.

The new Eddie is tanned and smarmy, finishes his novel, wins back his girlfriend, and sets off to make boatloads of money. But those screenwriters ensure that the drug has worse side effects than Cooperification. After multiple doses of NZT, Eddie starts losing track of time, rampaging blindly through hook-ups, fights, and nights on the town. It turns out his blackouts are just as prodigious as his lucidity, though darker in nature, like Mr. Hyde's. During these episodes, director Neil Burger seems mildly interested in how NZT represents American delusions of specialness and individuality, the idea that every schmuck has a secret genius inside, needing only the proper focus to unleash itself. But as Eddie stumbles into a few choice gonzo moments that fleetingly recall the Crank movies, Burger settles for a pulpy immorality tale, a cautionary tale without much caution.

Burger also made The Illusionist, a magician movie that had the misfortune to come out around the same time as Christopher Nolan's superior The Prestige. The new film indulges in what might be called magic tricks, by way of music video styling: distorted zooms stitched into delirious single shots, blurred-together montages, and finance figures floating from Eddie's ceiling. There's a color scheme, too: Eddie's normal life looks drab and overcast; when he takes the drug, colors brighten and the sun seems to shine brighter.

As such, Limitless, based on Alan Glynn's novel The Dark Fields, feels propulsive and cinematic, except when it's weighed down with first-person narration, probably useful on the page, but not when listlessly explaining a movie. Bland descriptions like "I was jacked in, booted up" sound like they were written by the hapless pre-drug version of Eddie.

Even at his most humble, Eddie is rarely more than a passably okay guy, though Cooper plays both the loser and the cocky jerk convincingly. Freed of the obligation to root for him, the movie is sometimes snappy and twisty, if also empty and somewhat scattered, a thriller without much at stake. To help this theme along, Burger mixes his effects flourishes with some low-tech pleasures: Eddie's scenes with his mentor/rival, financial titan Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro), generate suspense over the simple matter of when and how the slyly irritable De Niro will call out the slick Cooper.

For all its moving parts, Limitless doesn't quite pay off. The energy and subplots mostly dissipate before the credits roll, brushed aside with more clunky narration. The film lacks the extra mind-bending kick of brainy sci-fi. Though it has suitable fun with a clever would-be allegory, in the end, it's still sweating for resonance.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image