Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Robert De Niro, Andrew Howard, Anna Friel
As I hinted at just above, Limitless is a movie for which I somehow managed to avoid all the trailers and tv promos for. It slipped right under my radar until I kept hearing it somewhat enthusiastically praised by various people in my social circles. There was even an episode of The Office where they watch the movie on the way to Gettysburg where Phylis asks "Isn't that the one with the guy who's limitless?" Going in, I wouldn't say I was ignorant of the film. I certainly knew the premise and that it starred Mr. Bradley Cooper, but the details and visual style were all a mystery. Anyway, I've stalled long enough. This is Limitless.
Limitless has a pretty straightforward plot. Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) finds himself in possession of a new drug that allows his brain to work to its full ability. He can access memories without hesitation and even use them to make new conclusions with a speed and determination that would make Sherlock Holmes envious. The two primary conflicts of the film are how can he use his drug induced abilities to better his life, and how can he avoid losing the pills that put him in this elevated state. Believe me, his new found focus doesn't go without notice from the world around him, and unfortunately that includes a mysterious man who follows Morra everywhere, a loan shark who blackmails Morra for a piece of the stash, and Morra's ex-girlfriend who can't quite make out what's going on with this writer who could barely hold it together enough to write a single page of his novel.
The first thing that I want to mention about Limitless is that Neil Burger definitely puts a visual stamp on the story. When a character takes the drug, it's matched with a first person shot accompanied by a fisheye lens as if to cement that this drug expands our perception of what is in front of us. Another common visual effect that achieves the same conveyance are the infinite zoom sequences in the film. The camera zooms in without stop for a seemingly endless amount of time without the normal depth of field issues that arise with a long zoom sequence. It's very surreal feeling and may even hurt the brain a little, but it all serves to emphasize that on this drug, the perception of the world is limitless. There are a number of other interesting visual elements that Burger brings to the table that definitely lift the movie out of mediocrity.
Other than that, the story itself does have some appeal, but I found it a little discomforting. Here you have this movie where the main character takes drugs which grant him a sort of superpower. And that's really where the movie seems to side in tone. There's a little more Superman than Requiem for a Dream in the way this drug story unfolds. The movie does deal with the negative consequences of the drug, but they all seem to come from no longer taking it. It's hinted at that this drug is not just something that amplifies brain function. It actually shapes you into a different person. Visually we're told this via two sequences when a character takes the drug for the first time and the audience sees two versions of the same person on screen. We're told this in the screenplay when a character mentions that they felt like a different person that did things they would never do while on the drug. So there's definitely some visit into the world of maybe this drug isn't such a great thing after all, but ultimately I felt that the movie brushed it aside in favor of it being at the very least a necessary evil.
The end result is a movie that looks and feels very cool, but confuses me on what it's trying to say. If this hypothetical drug existed, are we supposed to believe that it's something that should be taken? Certainly, there are weaker versions of drugs that grant us focus, but I certainly hope advocating a steady dose is not what the movie has in mind. I think the more negative aspects of substance dependance should have been explored to a much greater degree.
I'm getting a little sidetracked here, so let me try to get this wrapped up. Limitless is thrilling and visually interesting. Some elements of the story can feel a little clumsy, particularly toward the end, but overall, drug discomfort aside, I'd recommend people check it out.
Netflix Rating: Really Liked It