REVIEW: Limitless [2011]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 105 minutes | Release Date: March 18th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Relativity Media
Director(s): Neil Burger
Writer(s): Leslie Dixon / Alan Glynn (novel The Dark Fields)

“I was blind, but now I see”

What would you do if you had the means to engage the entirety of your brain? To go from twenty-five percent to a hundred in thirty seconds after taking a tiny, clear pill—it’s a no-brainer, right? Your first taste is from an old friend, your assumption is that the drug is FDA-approved, and the effects are too good to dismiss. So what if you soon find out the manufacturing is done in an illegal kitchen? Who cares if your only connection to the product is mysteriously murdered while you’re out acquiring his dry-cleaning? As the title says, the potential is Limitless and the clarity of thought holds infinite possibilities. Writer Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) took the plunge with minimal reservations and he decides to continue falling through the rabbit hole with none. Delusions of grandeur have become reality.

Director Neil Burger impressed me stylistically with his sophomore effort The Illusionist, but the film was simply too slow for me to get behind it. His newest is hindered by much of the same; it’s unraveled laboriously and paced at a crawl. Most times I’d actually rather a story burn slow, the discovery of twists and turns meticulously hidden and revealed for optimal effect, but while the premise here is uniquely intriguing, the true scope of the tale isn’t as impressive as the filmmakers lead you to believe. You see, Eddie Morra is just one man and he has a goal to find permanence to his new deductive abilities. He has a mission to either find the creator of NZT or someone to reverse engineer it, thus the need for capital is king. A quick career move from author to day trader, a gateway into the pocket of a corporate legend in need of some assistance on a merger, and a guy who could barely rub two pennies together is worth millions. He’s an overnight sensation, alternating between humble hopes and hubristic reach. However, no drug is this good without some sort of crash.

But withdrawl, headaches, and skipped fracturing of time—a blink of the eye hiding hours and miles of travel behind it—are the least of his worries. Six people he can find that have taken the substance are now either in critical condition or dead; Gennady (Andrew Howard in one of the best roles with a dynamite laugh referencing Google), the heavy who stake Eddie’s portfolio with one hundred grand is after him and has had a taste of the precise and complete cognizance; and a balding man in a tan coat (Tomas Arana) begins to be seen everywhere he goes. The game has become dangerous; it’s no longer just about one man bettering himself through science. There is more than meets the eye and the people who know bits and pieces—ex-wife Melissa (Anna Friel), current ex-girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish), or Gennady—begin to infer on Eddie’s movements. Paranoia sets in, protection is taken, and his new job assisting a powerful magnate named Carl Van Loon (Robert De Niro) becomes a surprisingly astute vantage point to the whole NZT scandal. It’s not that Morra is no longer alone, though. He never was.

To share any of the secrets would really ruin the film—its surprises are what make the snail-like pace bearable. It never quite gets to tedium because Cooper’s highs and lows continue to enthrall just as his fear in the side effects begins to wear at his resolve. No one involved is off limits; names like Hank Atwood and Morris Brandt may seem to be throwaway parts but in fact are just as crucial or more to the plot than top-billed actors like Cornish. A lot happens in a short amount of time, paralleling the astronomical rise of our lead, yet some instances are glossed over too quickly. An apartment building that should be a vault is not impenetrable, the volatility of one man looking to steal his stash is too much to watch him simply view and follow at the start, and a murdered woman—a crucial cog to the story and to a potential fall from grace—is almost completely forgotten. I’m all for Hitchcockian MacGuffins littering a mystery/thriller, but there’s a right way to do it and another that’s full of plotholes.

Limitless ends up becoming a winner, though, through its eventual conclusion really pushing the science fiction aspect further than it appeared the writers wanted to initially go. The bridge between main plot and epilogue could use a lot more than a title card relaying a jump of ten years, but the payoff comes close to making me forgive the lazy bit of reading between the lines. Either way, it’s a fun experience as a whole and the artistry of visual gimmicks adds another level of interest with infinite zooms through miles of cityscape in an almost seamless transition. Beginning with the opening credits, scanning forward into car windows, pedestrian tunnels, and populated sidewalks with moving extras to show we aren’t merely going into still photographs, the effect crops up again in a mirror sequence and a kissing scene—where it actually fails by constantly morphing different camera angles together, changing the earlier static zoom into an annoying push and pull. Add the skipped time sequences for some extra flair—especially one with a well-orchestrated fight scene—and the piece shows again how Burger has the eye, but his masterpiece is yet to come.

[1] (Left to right.) Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper star in Relativity Media’s LIMITLESS. Byline: John Baer © 2011 Dark Fields Production, LLC All Rights Reserved.
[2] Abbie Cornish and Bradley Cooper star in Relativity Media’s LIMITLESS. Byline: Myles Aronowitz © 2011 Dark Fields Production, LLC All Rights Reserved.
[3] Bradley Cooper and Andrew Howard star in Relativity Media’s LIMITLESS.

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