Limitless is a diverting sci-fi allegory, The 5th Quarter is by the numbers

by Mark Burger



Limitless is a nifty, imaginative adaptation of Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields, with Bradley Cooper more than holding his own in a demanding and dramatic role, well supported by the likes of Robert De Niro, Anna Friel and Abbie Cornish.

Cooper, also billed as an executive producer, plays Eddie Morra, burned-out wouldbe writer and all-around wastrel whose entire life changes when he encounters his ex-brotherin-law (Johnny Whitworth), who offers him a sample of NZT-48, an experimental drug that allows the user to exercise the full potential of his brain. Eddie can absorb and process information at an inhuman rate. He’s smarter, faster, better.

It doesn’t take long for Eddie to start accumulating wealth and power, but like his euphoria, the drug’s effects are only tempo rary.

To remain at so high a functional level, he has to take more — a neat (and appropriate) parallel to addiction.

There’s also a clear Faustian aspect to Eddie’s newfound fame, particularly when he is tapped by tycoon Carl Van Loon (no less than Robert De Niro) to broker a major corporate merger. Yet already there are problems, not the least of which are the physical and psychological side effects of the drug. By the time Eddie becomes aware of them, he’s in too deep.

He’s also being targeted by forces unknown.

They want the drug. And if they can’t have the drug, they want Eddie.

The film hinges largely on Cooper‘s performance, and the actor brings a distinct everyman quality to the role; he’s empathetic without being entirely sympathetic, a careful balance nicely maintained throughout, and he plays paranoia very well.

De Niro’s role is basically an extended cameo, but he appears to be having fun and has a couple of good monologues in which he puts Eddie in his place. As his on-again, off-again girlfriend — and the film’s voice of reason — Cornish hasn’t much to do except look concerned, but Friel does a terrific job in the brief role of Eddie’s ex-wife, herself a one-time user of NZT-48 — one of the few, it seems, who has managed to survive relatively intact.

There are a few loose ends in the story, although hardly enough to damage the overall narrative. Besides, a film like this almost depends on loose ends, and they actually add to the film’s effectively ambiguous ending. Not every question raised in Limitless has an answer. In the end, such answers aren’t necessary.

The fact-based sports saga The 5 th Quarter will undoubtedly resonate most with local audiences, given that it dramatizes the Wake Forest Demon Deacons’ ACC football championship season of 2006. Adding to the flavor is that it was filmed on location throughout the Piedmont Triad.

Ryan Merriman plays Jon Abbate, the young player whose younger brother Luke (Stefan Guy) is tragically killed in an auto accident. The grief suffered by the Abbate family, including father Steven (Aidan Quinn) and mother Maryanne (Andie MacDowell), is overwhelming, yet this tragedy was turned into triumph when Jon donned Luke’s No. 5 jersey and the team went on to glory, paying tribute to Luke in victory.

Even those unfamiliar with the true story may find the storytelling here very familiar, or predictable at the very least. Although clearly well-intentioned, The 5th Quarter is basically a tearjerker, best suited to the small screen rather than the large. It’s not a bad film, and it’s got a nice message, but little else to elevate it above the merely routine.