Los Angeles Times writer Steve Zeitchik gets inside the brain of “Limitless” director Neil Burger…
Strolling around Manhattan’s Chinatown and Central Park, where he filmed scenes from his new film “Limitless,” director Neil Burger is reliving his movie’s arc. And his career. Which may not be all that far apart.
“I always think about what’s the difference between being tenacious and having an inability to learn from failures,” he says on the warm Saturday in March, reflecting on his checkerboard directing path. “The difference between the homeless guy who wanted to be a great painter and the guy who is a great painter could be anything. It could be something small, like he dropped his keys at the right time and looked up and saw the gallery owner on the street. Or it could be something you never even find out about.”
In “Limitless,” based on Alan Glynn’s techno-thriller novel “The Dark Fields,” a schlubby, down-on-his-luck New York writer named Eddie (Bradley Cooper) stumbles onto that small thing in a brief, chance encounter with his former brother-in-law, who gives him a drug called NZT. A miracle street narcotic in the form of a translucent pill, NZT enhances mental performance beyond any reasonable expectation. (Yes, it’s fictional.) Before long, Eddie has not only shaken off his writer’s block but taken the financial world by storm — all so quickly he’s barely become aware of the drug’s physical toll or the goons who want to get their hands on it, and him.
But as much as “Limitless,” which opens Friday, contemplates the emotional and ethical implications of a mental-enhancement drug — “instead of a nose job, a brain job,” in Burger’s coinage — its real preoccupation is the value and cost of success. And Burger, sans NZT, knows from these themes…
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– Steve Zeitchik
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