The late John Gardner, author of the novels Grendel and The Sunlight Dialogues, once said a writer can’t create a character who’s smarter than he or she is. Well, he made that assertion before the advent of Google, the world-brain. Still, Limitless brings Gardner to mind. First, Andrew Morra, the character played by Bradley Cooper, is a writer—in this case, a failed writer, a writer who hasn’t written, what used to be called a writer manqué. And he takes a pill that allows him to use all of his brain, not just the twenty percent or so that we use now. Sadly, despite Google, the filmmakers have proven the truth of Gardner’s assertion. Andrew Morra becomes a super-brain, but only within the limits of Hollywood’s cliché-ridden crapola.
Apparently, with access to 100% of your brain, you can write a book in four days, seduce a bunch of women, and make a ton of money in a couple of weeks. In fact, the whole movie is really about day-trading. Was there nothing more interesting the filmmakers could make him do? The most dramatic tension the film achieves occurs when our hero learns that prolonged use of the brain-enhancer often leads to death. But using his super-brain, he works out a way that might allow him to avoid that. If the pill makes him smart enough to come up with this solution, why is it that none of the other users of the pill could figure this out?
Side Note: I wish Hollywood would get its facts right. The Bradley Cooper character is a writer who has received a sizeable advance from a publisher for a novel he hasn’t even begun. In the real world, this does not happen unless you’re Stephen King.
The rest of the cast do a serviceable job, but it’s as if all of them, including DeNiro, are standing aside to give Bradley Cooper his moment under the bright lights. And Cooper does well enough, especially when he acts sweaty desperation. But is it just me, or in every movie in which he appears, does Cooper have a perpetual half-smirk that makes him look as though he’s just stepped out of a fraternity bedroom during Spring Fling? It’s a look that makes him perfect for movies like The Hangover but not so right for dramatic movies like this one, ones in which we’re meant to root for him. Sorry, Bradley.
The director, Neil Burger, does everything he can do to make the film look more interesting than it is, and the camera-work is sometimes breath-taking. When Morra types his novel, the alphabet falls through the air around him. When he gazes up at the ceiling, trying to figure out how the big merger should be managed, the coffers of his ceiling flip like tiles on a Wall Street tote board. In another memorable shot, the camera moves at high speed down streets, through cars, and over sidewalks in a way that’s meant to mirror Morra’s high-speed brain action. Note to the director: David Fincher called. He wants his camera back. (And wasn’t The Social Network the apotheosis of a director making a bland subject look more interesting than it is?)
First, know that I’m a big Robert DeNiro fan, but he’s never been more miscast than in this movie. Yes, he does a great job as the mysterious tycoon, and he’s given at least one good speech. But the miscasting is especially evident in the big confrontation scene at the end. The Cooper character demonstrates that he’s so smart he can predict a fender-bender that’s about to occur across the street. DeNiro’s character, stunned, climbs into his car and drives away. The DeNiro I know would have bounced Cooper’s head off the fender a few times: “What about this? Did you predict this, you smug !@%X!!?” Even as an older man, DeNiro conveys a sense of danger that Cooper just can’t touch. Sorry again, Bradley.
And at the end, after our hero has gone through all his ups and downs, he decides to go into politics. Really? I mean, would a super-brain really decide that the next logical step after generating super-wealth should be to go into politics? Isn’t Donald Trump’s interest in running for president evidence enough that smart people do not go into politics? Sorry, Donald.