“Obviously, I miscalculated a few things. Why is it that the moment your life exceeds your wildest dreams the knife appears at your back?”
You’ve heard the myth that we only use about 10% of our brains so often that most people actually believe it’s true. It’s one of those old wives’ tails that has been around long enough to become an axiom. We actually do use considerably more than 10% of our brains, or should I say, most of us do. But it is true that we don’t utilize anywhere near all of it. So what might happen if we could? How might that improve our lives? After spending almost a couple of hours watching Limitless, I might have to become a tad more content with whatever percentage I’m using right now. In fact, maybe it might be a good idea to lower it a little.
Eddie Morra (Cooper) is a down-on-his-luck writer who somehow has a book contract even though his publisher isn’t very convinced he can deliver. He’s got a bad case of writer’s block, and his girlfriend has just walked out on him. Things are pretty close to rock bottom when he happens upon his ex-brother-in-law, Vern (Whitworth) a former drug dealer. Now he’s a pharmaceutical rep with a new wonder drug. NZT can allow you to access 100% of your brain. Eddie tries the drug, and it’s true. Suddenly he’s a with-it genius who can manipulate the stock market for millions. His meteoric rise to wealth attracts the attention of market guru Carl Van Loon (De Niro). But before he can work his magic to impress the tycoon, his own bad luck is starting to catch up with him in the form of blackouts, cops (he just might have killed a girl during one of the blackouts), Russian mobsters, a shrinking supply of NZT, and a few other loose ends. It’s all spiraling out of control, and he’s about to end up back on the bottom, if he can’t work himself out of a few dozen jams.
The movie is quite stylish. Too often the style overpowers the story and it all careens out of control. We have everything from annoying split screens to fanciful depictions of what is happening from multiple Eddies to show how much he can do to rather bizarre framing. In fact, director Neil Burger shows his experience which is rather more limited than limitless. He spends so much time trying to wow us with clever depictions that he’s failed to nail down a pretty problematic script. For a super-smart man Eddie misses some obvious things that are so obvious that it steals a lot of the thunder Burger is trying so hard to generate. He borrows 100 grand from a brutal Russian mobster to stake his stock rally. Even after banking over two million, he completely forgets to pay off the mobster causing much of the trouble that threatens to bring him down. The script throws story threads at us that just aren’t complete. The whole idea of him possibly killing someone is constantly left out there hanging. Burger treats it like a necessary vehicle, but he just forgets to fill the tank with any gas. Many plot points appear created out of thin air merely to serve a short and direct purpose, only to be abandoned like so much water disappearing into steam. It’s sad, really, because there is so much potential here and a few things he got right.
One of the things he got right was the cast. Bradley Cooper first came to my notice as a small player on the Jennifer Garner series Alias. I always thought he was terribly underused, and performances like this one have constantly proven me correct. In spite of a scattered script Cooper manages to keep the film somewhat compelling by delivering an inspired performance. He’s created two very distinct characters for Eddie, one before or off the drug, the other while on the drug. Burger attempts to highlight those two worlds by creating distinct color styles for these different worlds, but you’ll find Cooper does a far better job of selling it all. De Niro is a bit fluff here and treats this like one of his less serious bluster roles. He’s still one of the best actors alive, but Burger’s not the kind of director to utilize his talents to get the most bang for the De Niro buck. There are some fine supporting performances, but they are quite wasted. This movie is about Eddie and should have been told from a more internal place. Cooper was just the guy to make that happen even without Burger’s help.
In the end Limitless is too off-center to maintain any staying power. What might be an interesting rent just isn’t going to hold up under multiple viewings. You might forgive the glaring flaws on the first try. You really owe Bradley Cooper that much for his herculean effort here. But they will become all the more obvious and distracting in short order. Rent it to catch a positively stupendous performance, then simply move on.
Limitless is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 36 mbps. Understand that this is quite a stylized film, and so the high-definition image presentation can’t help but be affected by those creative choices. Burger did do something clever here. He used two different brands of film stock to create a distinctly different environment for when Eddie is on or off the drug. It’s effective, and in high definition it can be truly appreciated for its nuances as much as its broad strokes. Black levels are fair with some nice shadow definition particularly in the more drab world of off-drug Eddie. There is some nice texture here, and it’s as sharp as necessary to pull it all off.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is quite complimentary of the urban locations in the film. You get a good feel for being lost inside the hub of a large city. Anyone who has spent time in that environment will appreciate the realistic soundfield. Dialog is fine and perfectly placed. There are some nice sub moments that will accent the film quite nicely at times.
There is an Audio Commentary with Burger, but he merely narrates.
All of the extras are in HD.
A Man Without Limits: (4:29) Fast-paced and mostly promotional, this look at the film suffers from the same over-stylized presentation that hurts the film itself.
Taking It To The Limit: (11:38) This is really just a continuation of the first feature in the same distracting style. The focus here is on locations and visual design of the movie.
Alternate Ending: (5:14)
You can always spot a young inexperienced director with a lot of money and/or toys at his disposal. He just has to use them all. There’s a reason why some of the best directors today are the ones who started with rather limited resources first. They learned to focus on the story. They learn to use the actors and the visceral feel that a raw camera can provide. It’s human nature, and it can’t be helped. I don’t blame Burger so much as the technology he has so early in his career. You see, it’s an inescapable fact of human nature. “We’re wired to over-reach.”