Bradley Cooper shows he has leading man chops to go with leading man looks
Bradley Cooper has had an almost meteoric rise from television actor to cinematic leading man. After a critically acclaimed role in Alias, he had a series of non-descript roles in films and on television shows that seemed to leave him destined to be remembered as the unhinged lunatic “Sack” from Wedding Crashers.
And then came The Hangover.
The breakout hit of 2009, he was the one member of the cast touted for superstardom based on a number of things: impeccable looks, screen presence and charisma. But he hadn’t had a real opportunity to carry a film by himself, playing second fiddle to Liam Neeson in The A-Team in 2010 after a pair of ensemble comedies. Limitless is his first big chance at being the man with his face on the poster as opposed to being one of many. And it’s a remarkable success for him but not so much as a film.
Cooper is Eddie, a burnout of a writer trying to start work on his novel. With his fiancée (Abbie Cornish) walking out on him, and no path to guide him, Eddie gets the gift of a lifetime: NZT. A pill that allows one to use 100% of their brain power, Eddie goes from writer’s block to finish his novel within a week. Learning new languages and the piano, amongst other things, Eddie uses his power for personal gain as he takes a small nest egg and transforms it into a personal fortune almost overnight. Getting the eye of a powerful financier (Robert De Niro), Eddie is led down a path by which he might not be able to get himself free from. Can he walk away from it all and not be dependent on an experimental drug for his personal wealth? Or will he be beholden to those who know his secret and aim to control him through it?
And for a film about a man with an IQ of “four figures” it turns into more of a big, dumb action film than the taut, intelligent thriller it imagines itself to be. It’s fairly conventional and relies on such standards as Wall Street brokers and Russian gangsters to add to the drama. The film’s plot of the rise of Eddie is always fairly unremarkable considering the subject matter at hand but it stays interesting because of two things: Cooper’s acting and Burger’s visualizations.
Taking a cue from Déjà Vu and other hyperkinetic films from Tony Scott, Burger applies a visually arresting style to allow us to see what life is life in Eddie’s mind on the drug. Instead of taking time and effort to explain what’s happening we see how things are working and how he’s perceiving them; Burger gives us an inside look at a man being able to be at his mental perfection. Eddie doesn’t have to go in depth as to how the drug is affecting him, etc, because we see what it’s doing. It’s akin to pulling away a fog and seeing something clearly for the first time. It wouldn’t work without an actor able to work off a thin line the conventions of the film dictate.
Cooper has always had the tools to be a leading man but never the opportunity. Given the chance he gives a great genre performance in a film that needs it. Shunting a legendary actor like Robert De Niro to the sidelines, Cooper has to deliver or he’ll be overshadowed despite having a lion’s share of screen time. This isn’t brilliant but it’s good, which is exactly what the film needs. Eddie is a guy who has always had potential but was just lazy who finds something that allows the better parts of him to defeat his baser instincts. We can root for this guy because he’s ordinary and average (as ordinary and average as Bradley Cooper can be, at least) who becomes that charismatic man who lights up every room he’s in (the kind of way we imagine Cooper to be).
The problem is that the film is inherently kind of dumb in an action movie sort of way. There’s nothing that pushes what could be a much more intelligent film into being more than what it turns out to be. This is a film that mirrors its protagonist in a way, but without a pill to suddenly make it go from good to brilliant. Limitless has a lot of potential it never really follows up but does enough good to keep it interesting throughout.
Director: Neil Burger Notable Cast: Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish Writer(s): Leslie Dixon based off the novel “The Dark Fields” by Alan Glynn
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.