DVD | Blu-Ray
Directed by Neil Burger
Screenplay written by Leslie Dixon
Based on The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn
Starring Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Abbie Cornish, Anna Friel, Johnny Whitworth
Originally Released: March 18, 2011
Limitless is a science fiction wolf in a sheep’s clothing of a thriller. At first glance, its twists and turns evoke a deep thriller feel, but its basis lies in the realm of sci-fi. Bradley Cooper plays Eddie Morra, a struggling author dealing with a frustrating inability to focus on his new novel, competing with an overwhelming urge for procrastination. But a chance meeting with an old acquaintance will revolutionize everything.
Morra runs into his brother-in-law from a previous marriage, and the two catch up for a drink and a chat about old times. The brother-in-law, Vernon Gant (Johnny Whitworth), originated his ‘street career’ as a drug dealer, but now deals in underground pharmaceuticals yet to be tested. It is here that we are introduced to the wonder drug known as NZT-48.
NZT is essentially a brain enlightening drug. It takes the user from accessing 20% of their brains to the whole 100% (in point of fact, a myth, but we’ll overlook this and discount it as the drug dealer trying to make a sale with some embellishment of the truth), enhancing problem solving abilities, creativity, learning speed, adaptability, intensified memory recall, and superhuman Sherlock Holmes-style deduction abilities.
NZT is the wonder drug we all want. Granted, it’s been done before in many stories. Flowers For Algernon/Charley and A Scanner Darkly, to reference just a couple, cover this kind of topic — but I believe this is the first time the plot device has been used in a thriller story with multiple levels of manipulations.
The drug gives Morra the boost he needs to finish his book; but then begins to look outward and beyond into other opportunities. Using his newfound enhanced abilities, he concocts a plan that initially zones in on studying finances, economics, and the stock market – going from being worth several thousand dollars to several million in a handful of days.
And that is where things unravel. Like all enhancements (or superpowers if this were a comic book), there’s usually a downside. Morra learns the hard way that NZT causes a speed-like effect of zoning out in a “tweaker” style – denoting that he can keep going intelligently for 18 hours straight, but have little recollection of the time spent, as his recollection suffers from blackouts. On top of that, we learn that the withdrawal from the drug causes illness leading to death, and that continual usage also causes sickness and… of course… more death. Happy pills are evil pills!
And while the abilities are limitless, his supply of NZT is limited. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…
What follows is a zigzagging path of deepening interactions between Cooper’s character and an assortment of others – from the highest on Wall Street, to the lowest criminal element in organized crime. Screenwriter Leslie Dixon and director Neil Burger (basing the film on the book The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn) contrive an intricate tapestry of connections between the characters, while zoning in on Cooper as the protagonist. While there isn’t a very clear antagonist in the tale (well, one is CLOSE to being one), what makes Limitless perform so well is the careful plotting of character interaction. Even the minute appearance of a single character may have significant repercussions for the development of Eddie’s story.
And the story writing is highly effective. People, things, and places materialize for specific reasons in the film, and it all ties up together as the story progresses. Nothing is wasted nor is redundant. For all intents and purposes, it could be considered the ‘perfect’ story…
…but it’s not. Not quite. The truth is that even though Limitless stands out with a sturdy plot, it is based on subject matter that has been dealt with in the past. Essentially the writing consists of mixing the aforementioned similar movies (Charley and A Scanner Darkly), and mixing it profusely with Fight Club… and I sense that I recognize a slight pinch of Crank thrown in there for extra flavor.
The Fight Club comparison is inevitable. The storyline is similar in a couple ways, mainly with the character “falling down the rabbit hole,” and the contravening of self-identity and existentialism. However, it’s the visual nature of the film that connects strongly to the world of Tyler Durden, with overlaying words and figures, typography, and wide ranges of panoramic zooms/focuses.
In the face of the inevitable comparisons, the performances in the movie are great. Cooper puts his best foot forward in this film, essentially enabling him to act as two (or three or four) “different” Eddie Morra personas, but observably being the one personality. The manner in which he is able to pull this off, for me, was a total mindfuck after viewing the film, when thinking back to the nuances, mannerisms, and ‘habits’ he used to differentiate between the distinctive Eddies, but being able to tie them together.
Robert De Niro is… well, he’s De Niro, what can I say? He brings in another solid performance in this movie, but has a wonderful scene-stealing moment with a speech lecturing Eddie. It’s captivating, but De Niro also captures the sly nature of his character as well, endorsing the deep-seated strategic moves being taken by all the major players of the story.
The cinematography, in conjunction with the visual effects employed to enrich the camera work, is nothing short of excellent. The speed/blackout moments are dizzying, and I fell in love the with dichotomy approach used with the palette and lighting to indicate when a character is either off the drug, or on the drug. It was extraordinarily effective, and completely sold several moments in the film that may have been perceived as hard to believe if handled any differently.
Limitless is also a morally ambiguous film, sometimes vaunting the aspects of less-than-ethical choices made in places. However, this is a refreshing change to some of the cookie-cutter flicks we see thrown into the genres of both Science Fiction and Thrillers, so it’s barely a disparagement on my part – and more of an observation.
The science backing of the film is a little topsy-turvy. While in some places it’s highly exaggerating (the myth of only using 20% of our brains, for one), and yet in others there are some accuracies. It is perfectly acceptable to believe that neuroscience may one day pave the way for a drug to assist in enhancing intelligence, retention, and attention; though in the context of the film being set in present times, it is a little improbable.
I have noticed though, that Limitless seems to be a divisive film for many people. I had read about it before seeing it, and most remarks I’d seen on the movie were from individuals who either proclaimed it as epic, or despised it as a waste of time… I’ve yet to see any middle ground from anyone on this, and I’m sorry to say that I’m guilty of the same assessment.
For me, Limitless was an outstanding flick. Despite the obvious connections drawn to other tales and movies, it had me riveted from the get-go, and my attention was not sidetracked at all until its conclusion. It’s an enjoyable ride, and well worth checking out.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to experience the superhuman mental effects of NZT?
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5